Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
One of the issues/problems in contemporary theology is the way we approach the study of God. Many claim that in order for God to be for us, He needs to be like us. In one respect this is true. The incarnation states this precise truth. That which is not assumed cannot be healed, redeemed or saved, as stated by many early church fathers.
However, this moves in a problematic direction when/if from this we conclude that God is also limited like us. In other words, we get our understanding of God from his creation and then expect that he must be like us. For some, as stated by Ludwig Feuerbach, God becomes a projection of ourselves.
This has significant implications for our doctrine of God, which is the foundational doctrine. All other doctrines are derivative, but are profoundly shaped and formed by this foundational doctrine. This doctrinal ground has become shaky the past 25-30 years, including among Evangelicals. Much more needs to be said about this, but for now I share a couple of key statements about this, one from the early church and one from a recent writing.
Irenaeus (130-202 AD), one of the early church fathers, was an apologist, one of the early defenders of the Christian faith, and also a theologian who was instrumental in the early development of Christian theology/doctrine. In Against the Heresies he writes,
This is what distinguishes God from man: God makes man; man is made. The Maker is always the same, while what is made has to have a beginning, middle and a final state of maturity. God makes well, man is made well.
Irenaeus makes it clear that there is a Creator and creature distinction. God is God. We are not. This provides a vital foundation to our theological methodology. Without it, one will be operating with a sub-Christian, at best, or non-Christian basis.
When considering the doctrine of God in general, or as it relates to soteriology more specifically, it must be remembered the creator/creature distinction. Too often it is overlooked or forgotten or intentionally blended so that what is expected of humanity, is also expected of God. We are rightly reminded by Adonis Vidu, Atonement, Law, and Justice: The Cross in Historical and Cultural Contexts (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014), 240, that
God is not an agent like any other agent. In other words, God does not ‘do things’ the way you and I do things. He has a unique relationship to his actions. His actions spring uniquely from his nature. Finally, his actions, have a unity about them not shared with other human actions.
As one (among many!) example of implications, consider how many people view God. God, they claim, cannot exercise wrath or retributive punishment or penal substitution or require a sacrifice for forgiveness of sins because all of this is unreasonable. Since God is love, and since we know what love truly is, there really is no place for these sorts of responses. We would actually respond better and more loving than that. So, based on what we would do, or what we would expect, we place that upon God. This understanding of God, then, affects how one interprets and understands the Bible and also every other doctrine.
The truth of the doctrine of God, his nature/attributes and his works, are critical for ontology (understanding of being), epistemology (understanding how and what we know) and morality (understanding how we are to live). As we seek to understand these critical matters right, remember this important truth: God is God. We are not.