A History on Why I Get Animated: Doctrine of God

As I write this, I have a touch of the flu bug, but I seem to be having a moment of fatherlucidity, we’ll see. This is going to be a short, brief reflection on the sea change that happened in my life in regard to thinking about God; a change that happened in its inchoate stages way back in seminary (2001-03).

The change that happened for me was monumental. I went from being draped under the god of the philosophers to being clothed with the Christian God of Triune reality. Ron Frost and Paul Metzger (for me, more personally Frost was my influence) introduced me to the theology of Metzger’s doktorvater, and one of Frost’s mentors, the now late professor Colin Gunton. At the core of Gunton’s theology was an emphasis upon Trinitarian theology (at that time something that was pretty new to me)—of course Gunton’s style worked with a lot of the categories provided by Orthodox theologian, John Zizioulas. It was because of this impetus in my life, that my world began to open up in new and exciting ways!

Fast-forward to about 2005 (two years after graduating from seminary); it was at this point (after I had been blogging for just a little bit at this point) that I began to come across some of Karl Barth’s stuff (my only engagement with him previous to this was in seminary where we worked through Metzger’s doctoral dissertation on Barth and culture). I don’t really recall what I began to read first, I think it was The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, and then this led to many others (secondary stuff, and Barth himself). After I started to read Barth, then I was introduced (because of Barth) to his most famous and best English speaking student, Thomas Forsyth Torrance. Torrance began to resonate with me, even more than Barth—probably because Torrance spoke in the tongue of the orthodox more than Barth—but both of these virtuosos took pride of place in my life, and theological development; and both of them represent a kind of melding together of where I am at predispositionally (and by nurture); Barth the evangelical and Torrance the (reformed) orthodox. But I digress, it is their trinitarian way that has breathed a breath of fresh air into my theological lungs.

This is where the sea change has happened for me. And while it has application toward, say, the false classical Calvinist and Arminian binary that I am so used to in my sub-culture, it goes much deeper. It is really a methodological divide. Is God in Christ revealed as Triune going to be the basis upon which we do the rest of our thinking, or, with Augustine, and the tradition spawned by him, are we going to do our thinking from salvation back to God? Thinking our way from salvation (so from us) back to God is the usual mode that evangelicals operate from; and so this usual way has no principled grounding in and from God’s life. So we think about salvation, the bible, church, evangelism, ethics, etc. etc. from this vantage point; and then, unfortunately we don’t think from what Myk Habets and myself like to call a Christ Conditioned way (pace Thomas Torrance and Karl Barth). And this has consequences (which I will not elaborate here).

And so this sea change has had personal consequences for me. It has kept me, for the most part, on the outside looking in (back into the evangelical world I once inhabited—and I am still an evangelical, even more so than I once was, I would contend!). And it is because I take this shift not relativistically, but absolutely—in regard to how I think Christians ought to think Christianly—that compromising becomes quite impossible. I realize that many today, especially in the evangelical church, believe that a lot of these (what they would consider) fine nuances are just the stuff of academics; but I would protest. These nuances matter, and they are worth becoming animated about; Christian people used to give their lives for such things—even lesser things (like baptism etc.). The difference for me is distinct, it is black and white; how we conceive of God determines all subsequent machinations, and so I simply won’t bend. It is not a matter of simply debating about the popular Calvinist and Arminian divide; this distinction (about how we conceive of the Christian God) has depth. And so if you find me getting animated about such things, it isn’t really much at all about classical Calvinism or Arminianism (even though this issue gets implicated for sure); it gets deeper than that. It is about who God is, and what that means about everything else.

It is my belief that if we start in the wrong place here—good intentioned, well meaning, and all—the rest is going to go badly (and I mean in people’s lives and Christian spirituality). I know we live in a relativistic world were pragmatism and being pastoral rues the day; but we have to be more Christian than this, bite the bullet, and take a stand on what we perceive is true about God. Semper reformanda!


5 thoughts on “A History on Why I Get Animated: Doctrine of God

  1. ahhh Bobby, I think it is the NyQuil talking here, i mean, making up names like “Zizioulas” really !! 🙂

    No, it is absolutely your impassioned journey that has impacted mine (so i cheated and didn’t have to read all that stuff) but I am on my way! reading Torrance now and Knox, and maybe even Zizoulas some day – Thank you for your persistence in getting the word out – you have every right to be animated trying to help those of us who became slaves to wrong thinking about God and to getting our theological mindsets back on the incredible love of God that is the Trinity.

    Yours truly,
    (not looking at me so much as at Jesus)


    ps glad you turned the comments back on:)

    pps moving to Indiana – maybe back to ministry in the not so distant future.


  2. Hey Bobby,

    Thanks for sharing and I hope you get better soon.

    I can appreciate this question: “Is God in Christ revealed as Triune going to be the basis upon which we do the rest of our thinking, or, with Augustine, and the tradition spawned by him, are we going to do our thinking from salvation back to God?”

    But my only concern with this question is how does this not inadvertently cast a dark cloud on much of the church’s history?

    I think many would agree with you, but would look at the history of the doctrine of God with more appreciation (i.e, understanding why they did what they did, the philosophical shifts, etc. ). Trinitarian theology has/still is having its impact on our modern academic and ecclesial institutions. My own experience is that certain traditions (my own especially: WTS, RTS, PCA ) are still trying to hold on to their heritage while reforming, and that takes time. Semper reformanda is must effective when the church is neither captive to or in reaction to their tradition.

    Have you seen Scott Swain’s (RTS prof and ordained PCA minister) new book on Robert Jenson called: The God of the Gospel: Robert Jenson’s Trinitarian Theology (Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology)? You really should check it out.


  3. @Steve,

    Hi. Thank you for the encouragement. I am not a fan of Zizioulas, per se, but it would be good to read him, critically. I’d read Gunton before Zizioulas, if anything.

    Wow, Indiana? Big move. I’ll pray pastoral ministry opens up for you again in Indy. Blessings, brother.


  4. @Casey,

    Really, what I wrote above was more of a personal testimony of sorts; it wasn’t the whole story though.

    That said, Evangelical Calvinism is not as modern as my post makes it sound. In fact we are into resourcement (as the title of our book makes clear). And in fact we reach back into the Reformed past (of Scottish Theology, primarily), and the Patristics (and this motivated by TFT as a patristic scholar … see his PhD dissertation and other works like: The Trinitarian Faith, Divine Meaning, etc.). In fact what we would like to do is recover from the past what we believe has been clouded over by much (not all) of the post Reformed orthodox, and its emphasis upon Scripture as one of the principium of the Reformed faith and epistemology V. God (in re. to a Dogmatic order of things and an order of knowledge vis-a-vis an order of being). My next post will get into this. My personal chapter in our book (on knowledge of God) gets into this, and in the end of the chapter I compare some Reformed confessions and a catechism, and highlight how even in the Reformed past there is some substantial difference; and how even in the past something like Barth’s and Torrance’s analogy of faith approach could be detected in the Heidelberg Catechism and Scots Confession of Faith, 1560 versus the Westminster Confession of the Faith and Belgic Confession where it cannot be detected (but instead, with these latter two what we see is a kind of emphasis upon a Thomist analogy of being approach to knowledge of God by grounded epistemology in creation. Anyway, maybe my next post will make this more clear.

    I have heard of Swain’s work, but have not read any of it yet. Thanks. for the recommendation.


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