Do you ever get the sense that the theology we do, and the God we pray to are seemingly distinct from the other? Here’s what I mean: Doesn’t it seem that the technical language used to talk about God, theologically, like Simplicity, Immutability, Impassibility, Omni ________, is disjointed from the God we meet in the Bible, in Jesus Christ? Jesus says this to Mary just after he resurrected from the grave:
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. – John 20:11-18
And yet when we come across a pivotal Confession for the Protestant churches it says this about God:
There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.
Don’t get me wrong, when we are attempting to think about God in a deep way we are bound to clumsily posit things about him, and ways to talk about him that seem ajar from how we encounter him in Scripture. But this has been my struggle for years. I am, by disposition, believe it or not, very traditional and conservative when it comes to Christian theology. But as I was exposed more and more to what stood behind the theology I only tacitly had been inculcated into as a young Christian person in my growing up years, I realized that the God I was being taught about in my theology classes sounded very little like the God I had been praying to, and then reading about in my Bible for all the years prior.
When I think of God, and the way I know him most intimately, it is as my Father. If I was introduced to Him through the God I encounter in the Confession above, I would actually be in some pretty dire torment; particularly when faced with all the various trials and tribulations that this life offers up on a daily basis. Do I want to know that God is a Rock, unchanging in His ways, as a reality that just has always been? Yes! Do I think in order to fortify this type of knowledge of God that I need to turn to the philosophers in order to supply me with the categories I need to think of God in these ways? No, I don’t. Andrew Purves and Mark Achtemeir write in this vein:
The center of the New Testament is the relationship between Jesus Christ and the One he addresses as Father. The communion between Jesus and his heavenly Fatherly is an utterly unique relationship, of which we can know nothing apart from Jesus’ own testimony. . . . God is thus Father not by comparison to human fathers, but only in the Trinitarian relation, as Father of the Son. Whenever Father is used of God it means “the One whom Jesus called Father.” The paradigm text is John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” In Greek, the word for “made him known” is exegesato. Jesus “exegetes” or “interprets” the Father. The term does not denote a generic title for God outside of the Father and Son relationship. Father thus functions in Trinitarian language not as a descriptive metaphor but as a proper name, whose home is the relationship that exists from all eternity between the first and second Persons of the Trinity.
Clearly, at some level, philosophical grammar will be involved in the doing of theological essaying. But at what level is this type of ‘grammarizing of God’ successful; and is there a better way to ‘evangelize the philosophers’ vis-à-vis other ways?
I think the best way forward is to go with Occam’s Razor, and be as minimalistic as possible when it comes to engaging with the philosophers. I think this is what the quote from Purves and Achtemeir is getting at, and indeed, is working from. To think of God as ‘my Father’ is to think of Him, conceptually, in much different ways and tones than to think of Him as ‘infinite in being and perfection,’ so on and so forth. And personally, I find this to be the fundamental flaw with so much of what counts as Christian theology today, and yesterday. It is the “Confessional” styled theology that is being retrieved by theologians in the evangelical and Reformed worlds today, but at what cost?
I’m not suggesting that within the history there is no good theology, even using and overly using some of the philosophical language. But what I am suggesting is that the lens through which the resourcement is being done is not expansive enough, and more importantly, is not sensitive enough to the reality of who Scripture discloses God to be in Christ. Jesus reveals God to the world as the Son of the Father in the bond of the Holy Spirit’s love. The Bible speaks of God as the ‘lover of our souls’, the Great Shepherd, the Lamb of God, the One who is, as the God with a name (e.g. Yahweh), as the Bridegroom, so on and so forth. I have not found these descriptors concordant with the God I have studied in the theologians (in the majority tradition of Post Reformation Reformed orthodoxy). There is a piety, and relational reality that gets lost in thinking of God through overly philosophical terms on a constant basis. And it is wrong to attempt to foreclose on who God is by overly privileging categories about God that themselves are not determined by God’s Self-Revelation in Jesus Christ as mediated through Holy Scripture.
This post is not an advertisement to be a Barthian, or Torrancean, or anything else in that mood. This is simply my reflection on why I have approached the things that I do, in the way that I do. My experience of God, as a result of various personal trauma, sometimes in ongoing ways, has driven me not to think of God as some of the Confessions would have me think of Him, but instead to come to Him as My loving Father, who cares for me like the Great Shepherd of Israel that He is. Some might say that I am making a type of disjunctive category mistake because I am drawing a line between how the ‘theologians’ must speak of God in their “craft,” and how the broken believer wants to speak of God because of the trauma and need of their daily life. But if this was the charge, I would suggest that the problem just might be with those who presume that we can make this type of artificial distinction between the Biblical language and the philosophical language ostensibly used to unpack the perceived implications of the Biblical God. Or obversely, the problem might be with those who too quickly equate the philosophical language with the Biblical God, categorically. Why not just allow the Biblical God and the Biblical categories to stand as the determinative categories that they are for thinking God, and teach the church how to resource the past from this vantage point? Why this compelling need, for many evangelicals, to “retrieve” the past in ways that really is more of an attempt to replicate the past for the present?
This will continue to be a rub for me, and maybe you can better see why. I need to rely upon God as my Father, and I can do that in a canonical rather “confessional” way. I think this is the best way to be evangelical in the 21st century, or in any century.
 Westminster Confession of Faith.
 Purves and Achtemeier, Union In Christ, 34–36.