No God Behind the Back of Jesus: God is Love not an UnMoved Mover

I don’t know about you, but as a North American evangelical, growing up, I was taught and given the impression, theologically, that God is somewhat performance driven; i.e. that he is concerned with me keeping his law in order for me to maintain fellowship with him (a quid pro quo type of relationship). Don’t get me wrong, it was never quite this explicit, in fact just the opposite might have been what was on the surface; i.e. that ‘Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.’ But underneath the pietism that the Sunday school song captures remained a God who was shaped goodshepherdby his relation to me and the world by us (humanity) keeping a rigid performance shaped spirituality. Even if I was told that God was love, and even if those telling me that he is love were genuine, there still, even at a tacit level, remained a detachment or rupture between what they were saying and the theology they, and then I had available to fall back on; in other words there was a fissure between the pietism, and the actual theology behind said pietism. If I am not being cryptic enough what I am referring to is the classically Reformed theology that funded, ostensibly, the piety I lived under as a child and young adult; bearing in mind that my background was just a basic baptistic “biblicist” Free church mode of being.

An antidote to all of this came for me in seminary, particularly through my professor, Ron Frost’s instruction; he introduced me to Trinitarian theology (at that time it was presented to me through Colin Gunton’s work). Since, then, of course, as many of you know, Thomas Torrance and Karl Barth have become my teachers in regard to informing the way I think about God as Triune love and what that means for my development as a Christian person. I thought I would share a lengthy quote from Thomas Torrance that illustrates the type of teaching I’ve been sitting under for the last eleven years. Here Torrance explicates what it means for God to be love:

… Just as we can never go behind God’s saving and revealing acts in Jesus Christ and in the mission of his Spirit, so we can never think or speak of him truly apart from his revealing and saving acts behind the back of Jesus Christ, for there is no other God.

It is of course because God actively loves us, and actually loves us so much that he has given us his only Son to be the Saviour of the world, that he reveals himself to us as the Loving One, and as he whose Love belongs to his innermost Being as God. If he were not Love in his innermost Being, his love toward us in Christ and the Holy Spirit would be ontologically groundless. God is who he is as he who loves us with his very Being, he whose loving is as inexhaustible as his infinite Being for his Love is his Being in ceaseless triune movement and activity. It is precisely as this living, loving, and acting God that he has come to us in Jesus Christ and unites us to himself by his one Spirit, interacting with us in creation and history, and in our human and physical existence in time and space, all in order to be our God and to have us for his people.

It is thus that we understand why Christians believe the God and Father of Jesus Christ to be the one and only God and Saviour of the world. He is not different in himself from what he is in the activity of his saving and redeeming love in the singularity of the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the God who is loving and saving us has once for all given his very Self to us in his Son and in his Spirit, and who in giving himself freely and unreservedly to us gives us with him all things. It is in the Cross of Christ that the utterly astonishing nature of the Love that God is has been fully disclosed, for in refusing to spare his own Son whom he delivered up for us all, God has revealed that he loves us more than he loves himself. And so it is in the Cross of Jesus Christ above all that God has both exhibited the very Nature of his Being as Love and has irrevocably committed his Being to relationship with us in unconditional Love. In Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit we know no other God, and believe that there is no other God for us than this God, who freely seeks and creates fellowship with us, utterly undeserving sinners though we are.[1]

There are no decrees, no artificial covenants (of works/redemption/grace), or stipulations in regard to how we can relate to a God like this, or who we are relating to. It is all contingent upon who he is in his triune life, and how that shapes his uncomplicated but ineffable relationship to us through his election and free choice to not be God without us, but with us, Immanuel. This is the God, the One revealed and explicated in Jesus Christ, that the piety I grew up with has been in search of; it is not the God, in my evangelical Calvinist view, who we get through Aristotelian, Thomistic, and scholastic decrees and covenants—the God who hides behind the back of a pretty soft face of Jesus.

It is unfortunate to see a whole new crop of young evangelical theologians drinking deeply from the well of scholasticism Reformed theology, and the God provided for in that schema. It is not the God simply revealed in Jesus Christ, and thought of from there. Instead the God of the Post Reformation Reformed orthodox, the God evangelical theologians are pressing into currently, is a God conceived of through philosophical speculation and appeal to the analogia entis; a God conceived of in abstraction, and then fitted to the God revealed in Christ.

If we cannot simply look at Jesus as the fullest explication and exegesis of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit then I would highly suggest that we not talk too much about any other conception of God. This is a serious matter, which I realize the other “side” would agree to. Unfortunately for some vested reason they can’t seem to accept the fact that the classical theism they have embraced unnecessarily layers a conception of God with the dregs of philosophical projection that muddles the face of God in Jesus Christ to un-recognition. Yes, you might end up with a sense of apophatic transcendence, in regard to the philosophically conceived God, but that sense of transcendence, so conceived, really, ironically, is more of a psychological sense of ‘feeling’ God which is generated by the self, more than a real sense of God’s transcendence as that is given in his Self-revelation in Jesus Christ unmitigated. Torrance speaks of this unmitigated God, I wish the evangelicals would swarm towards his approach to things rather than to what they have been now for these past many years.

 

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 4-5.

Advertisements

9 comments

  1. […] via No God Behind the Back of Jesus: God is Love not an UnMoved Mover — The Evangelical Calvinist […]

    Like

  2. Amen, Bobby! What is it in the human psyche that says to the God who reveals Himself once and for all time in the Incarnate Son by the Spirit, “Yes, but?”

    Like

  3. I don’t get it either Jerome. The irony to me is that those who want to say “yes, but” are those who tout inerrancy etc most loudly. It comes back to ecclesiology, and the role that trad plays for them.

    Like

  4. Tim Shipman · ·

    You are right about the “yes but ” crowd yelling loud and long with a fear that we make God too good. Maybe even as good as ………Jesus. Say it ain’t so. They must remind us that God both loves and hates, and on and on it goes with a depression descending upon me as I hear it. But with that said it never fails to plant doubt in my mind about “who is this God really”….and the cloud of depression lowers still further. I understand that need to be “right”, however it has never given me a peace that surpasses all understanding the way that the God that you described does. This God of Love that reveals Himself to us in Jesus is the real God of gods! This is a Sabbath that I can rest in.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Amen, Tim! This is where I find rest too.

    Like

  6. Beautiful post Bobby, you have really helped shape my understanding of the God revealed in Jesus through your posts, and I could not thank you enough. My question to you is, how should I have a conversation with someone so stubbornly convinced about the first depiction of God you talked about? How can I share (in a loving way) the God revealed in Christ to them?

    Like

  7. Hi David,

    Thank you, great to hear from you; your words encourage me. Your question is difficult, this as you know can be a contentious thing. If you’re engaging with someone in person that usually makes things a lot easier to do this; online it is extremely tough. If in person maybe just set up a meeting to have coffee with your interlocutor, and just lay out the distinctions you see between emphasizing a God of Law versus a God of Love. I’ve actually done this with someone before, in person, and it actually went well. Obviously a lot of this will depend on your interlocutor as well; i.e. their temperament, and willingness to actually listen (even if they still end up disagreeing). I also think it’s possible to have a heated engagement, but to do so with respect (although this is really hard to do, of course). But I wouldn’t be afraid of just being forthright, and maybe trying to frame it as objectively as possible; i.e. so make it less about you or him/her, and make it about competing viewpoints and ideas instead.

    Like

  8. I’m reading the Torrence quote next to this blog post, which says in part, “He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.” I take it that Torrence, who I admit I am not familiar with to any degree, that unlike many Reformers, he did not believe in reprobation? Or again, that I’m trying to fit the quote into my understanding of a Calvinist view and it leaves me wanting a clarification about Him loving us “in Christ.” Could you clarify when you have the opportunity please?

    Like

  9. Hi Rick,

    Yes, Torrance believe in reprobation, just retooled through a Christ conditioned or concentrated lens. So in other words, he believed, as do I, using those categories of election and reprobation that when the Son elected our humanity for himself he elected our reprobation as well (II Cor 5.21). There’s somewhat of a double-election in Torrance’s and Barth’s view;i.e. the primal or initial election in eternity to be human for us, and in this he takes our reprobation, and then the second prong which is the Son’s elects status for us in the resurrection or recreation (Rom 6–8). This would be the way to get into this at a basic level in re to understanding Torrance and Barth. I have lots of posts on this. If you go to my categories and look up election you should find some that explain this further.

    Like