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Everything About God Matters

We live in an age of distraction, entertainment, and lasciviousness, all of which inoculate us against holy passion for the God who made and redeemed us. We can let the sociologists conduct surveys of culture and the psychologists ponder counselling feedback, but theologians know that a fresh sight of God is what revives the soul. Familiarity with history reassures us that our present culture of distraction is not as new as it imagines. Back in 1681 John Owen bemoaned that “the world is at present in a mighty hurry…it makes men giddy with its revolutions.”[1]

So, we revive our affections for God by theologizing in the only way that is true theology – contemplation of God as He has revealed Himself, with desire that our thoughts of Him change us and glorify God. The doctrine of simplicity is a teaching aimed to affirm that everything about God matters, and everything God says of Himself matters.

God Matters

The doctrine of simplicity addresses who God is: how important, vital and truly God-like He is. Understanding simplicity takes effort. God will be counter-intuitive to creatures since our daily experiences are shaped by engaging with creation rather than the Creator. We are more used to managing matters dependent upon us than worshipping the maker upon whom we depend. The doctrine of simplicity is a teaching aimed to affirm that everything about God matters, and everything God says of Himself matters. Click To Tweet

We can feel impatient reflecting on who God is as things we do seem more urgent. The Church has not been well served by those who have substituted technique, management, and advertising for scripturally-shaped knowledge of God. To any who think they can discover a life-changing ethic or philosophy of discipleship without the tough work of understanding the doctrine of simplicity, Augustine warned, “There is no living rightly without believing rightly in God.”[2] Who God is matters for life and worship.

Everything God Says of Himself Matters

Much good can be done by sharing with the world what God has done for us – sending His Son and Spirit, bearing His own wrath at sin in the person of the Son, and raising Him to ascendant life to await a future return to judge all. We must rejoice in all God has done and will do, and we must share the gospel news with all. Still, the command to teach all Jesus said must include what Jesus said about the nature of God. He is perfect (Mat. 5:48), He is humble (Mat. 11:27-29), He is omniscient (Mat. 6:6). It is a temptation to focus on ‘what God does’ at expense of ‘who God is.’ What sinful hearts we have, that even the saving works of God can be seized on to muffle what God reveals of Himself.

We must resist focusing only on part of what the Bible says of God. “A scriptural description of God comprises three aspects: the revelation of the one Essence by means of various attributes; the enumeration of the divine Persons; and the revelation of his deeds.”[3]

The doctrine of simplicity is the grammar of God. It seeks to ensure that when we read one thing about God in the Bible, we do not allow that to prevent us believing something else the Bible affirms of God, even if our first reading may seem to contradict it. Simplicity helps us worship the God who is both omnipresent and incarnate; both forgiving and wrathful; both above us and in us.

Bavinck defined simplicity as the teaching that “God is sublimely free from all composition, and that therefore one cannot make any real distinction between his being and his attributes. Each attribute is identical with God’s being: he is what he possesses … Whatever God is, he is that completely and simultaneously.’[4] Bavinck quotes Irenaeus and Augustine to sustain his point that simplicity has always been the instinct of the Church. Indeed, simplicity guards the nature of God from misrepresentation. The doctrine of simplicity addresses who God is: how important, vital and truly God-like He is. Click To Tweet

All that is created is composed of parts. People can change or lose part of what they possess while remaining who they are. A person can change with old age: losing patience to become grumpy. Such change in attributes may strain family relationships but would not mean the person had ceased to be who they are.

That is how humans are – we can change and lose attributes while remaining who we are in essence. God is different than us. Simplicity affirms that God’s essence is identical with His attributes. The Bible affirms not that God has a quality called love which could increase or decrease without changing who God is. Rather, ‘God is love’ (1 Jn. 4:8). Simplicity ensures that this statement is maximally true of God. Since God is love, He can never lose nor lessen His love. The doctrine of simplicity is the grammar of God. Click To Tweet

If we are tempted to think that the deeds of God are all that matters, just focus on the love God shows on the cross. Consider that without simplicity there is no guarantee the love shown on the cross will remain a reality in the future. The Spirit can only pour an endless fountain of God’s infinite love into our hearts if God is love. The Spirit’s work requires God be simple, and on this basis of simplicity the Spirit’s work can be relied upon through all seasons of this life into eternity.

To the extent that the modern evangelical movement prioritizes soteriology over theology, simplicity counters that good theology empowers soteriology. Justification may well be the “hinge on which religion turns,”[5] but it is God who justifies, and simplicity ensures the God we worship is willing and able to justify.

Continue reading this article here.

Peter Sanlon

Rev. Peter Sanlon (PhD, Cambridge University) is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary, UK. Alongside that he is minister of Emmanuel Church, Tunbridge Wells. His published books include ‘Simply God: Recovering the Classical Trinity’ and ‘Augustine’s Theology of Preaching.’

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