Full Text for Dogmatics 1- Volume 15 - What's so unique about the Christian conception of God? (Video)

FILE: DOG15.WMV NICK RIVKIN: What's so unique about the Christian conception of God? DR. ROLAND ZIEGLER: When we talk about God as Christians, we talk about the God who has revealed Himself in history. Access to God is connected with God's action in time and space. Which, of course, then culminates in the story of Jesus Christ. So to talk truly about God, we neither look into nature nor into human reason. Although I said before there is some knowledge of God revealed through nature, a general revelation, that is fragmentary and distorted. We have to look, where does God reveal Himself fully? And that is, first and foremost, that in the story of Israel, and in the fulfillment of that story, in the story of Jesus Christ. So the Christian concept of God is rooted in history. That distinguishes the Christian concept also from a view that sees God accessible through the human mind as if we have a true knowledge of God innate in our mind so that just through thinking, we'll get to God. We can, so to speak, climb up the ladder to God via our mind. No, we do not reach God via climbing up, but by looking down where He has revealed Himself. So when we talk about God, we describe Him by what He has done. He is the creator of the universe. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That's where He Himself introduces Himself. He is the God of Israel who led them out of Egypt. He is the God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ. Finally, God is in flesh in Jesus Christ. He is the Holy Spirit who dwells in the Christian. To speak about God, we have to talk about what He has done. That is the fundamental way of talking about God. To simply recount the deeds of God. And that means also that talking about God is fundamentally doxological. That means we praise God by recounting the deeds He has done, His salvific deeds, as you see it in many songs. The first level to talk about God is therefore simply to tell the stories of what God has done. The second level, a level of theological reflection, then we look at these stories and try to articulate a coherent concept of God. That is the level of dogma and of theological investigation. When we look at that, at this kind of concept that comes out of the recounting of God's deeds, that comes out of how God's actions by Himself is described in holy scripture, we see that the Christian concept differs from other religions insofar as it says that God is trinity. That God is Trinitarian. Tritheism asserts at the one hand that there is only one God. Now, that's not that unique. There are other religions in the 6 world that say that. Who is most famous? Judaism and Islam. But you also have monotheistic tendencies in many other religions. But what is unique is that we say that this God exists from eternity in three persons. So there is oneness and threeness in God. So that's the basic statement we Christians make about God. He is one and three. With the revelation of the Old Testament, we affirm, therefore, the unity of God. There is but one God. In Deuteronomy 6:4, we have the ******* (Shimalis Reim), the basic Jewish creed that says, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." There is only one God. St. Paul echoes that in his letter to the -- the first letter to the Corinthians by saying, "There is no God but one." That means in the negative that outside of the God of Israel, outside of the God as He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, there are no gods. There is only one God who can truly be called God. What about the other gods then? Well, you all remember the stories in the Old Testament where the struggle is going on between the true followers of the God of Israel and those who adored also the God of Israel. But included in their religious life, the worship of Baal and ******* (Ashara). The prophets fought that saying there is but one God. These other so-called gods are nothing. Jeremiah says, "Has a nation ever changed its gods? Yet they are not gods at all. But my people have exchanged their glory. These other gods are not gods at all." Isaiah says, "I am the Lord and there is no other. Apart from me, there is no God." These other gods are nothing. They don't exist. They arrogate the position of God, but truly they are no gods at all. St. Paul in his discussion if you should eat the meat that was sacrificed to the pagan deities says, "We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and there is no God but one." So God is one and besides Him, there is no God. Christianity therefore rejects, of course, polytheism. The worship of many gods. It also rejects all forms of dualism. Dualism means that from eternity, there are two competing, fighting principles. Good and evil, for example, as you find it in Zoroastrianism, the Persian religion, where you have the good God who is ******* (Mazda), and on the other hand you have the evil principle, the evil God, ******* (Okremon), and they fight against each other. And that's what the world is all about. Good versus evil in a continual struggle and a continual fight. Influenced by these Persian religions was a ******* (Zincrostic) religion that was very influential in the early centuries of Christianity founded by the Persian ******* (Menney). ******* (Menoncheinism). ******* (Menoncheinism) also taught that there was a God and evil principle, and both internal. 7 Christianity affirms from eternity there is only one God. That means also when we talk about the devil, the devil is not the anti-God or eternal or whatever. When Paul says, I Corinthians 10, "But the sacrifices of pagans are often to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons," it cannot be understood that these idols, these false gods, have some same stand as God has. Rather, that idolatry, since it is worshipping that which is not God, is ultimately worshipping the one who arrogates the position of God. The devil may think that he is God but, of course, he is not. He is a creature. There is only God, one God, and there are creatures. Because there is only one God, and this one is the God who has led Israel out of Egypt, therefore the first commandment is the first commandment, the most important commandment, "You shall have no other gods." That's where everything starts. That is fundamental. There is but one God. Him you shall worship alone. Because otherwise you will worship figments of your imagination or creatures and you will rob God of His glory. The first commandment guards the basic distinction between creator and creation. Only the God of Israel is the living God, truly God. Everything else belongs to the realm of creation. All of that, therefore, leads to the confession that there is one God. All that leads to monotheism. But, again, that is not the only thing that has to be said about God. Yes, there is but one God. But as Christians, we confess that this God is also three. That in God, there are three persons. He not only talks about the Father being God, but he also talks about Christ and the Holy Spirit being God. That's where the debate over the Trinity starts. How can you understand that when holy scripture calls Christ God? How can you understand that that the Holy Spirit is called God without ending up saying there are three gods, being polytheistic all over again. What's the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in sentences like that? "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." How can Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be named in one sentence in one breath? Does that mean they are the same, on the same level? How can we be saved by the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit if only the Father is divine but Son and Holy Spirit are creatures? Are we saved by a creature? Can you put creatures and the Father, the one God, on the same level? How is that to be understood? And Paul says in II Corinthians, a passage you all know from preachers who have used it at the beginning of their sermons, "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." How can you paralyze it like that? Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, love of God, fellowship 8 of the Holy Spirit. Is it to be taken literally when God -- when Christ is called God? And if so, how can you maintain the unity of God? Talking about the Trinity is, therefore, not some form of abstract speculation. It is not something people with a lot of brains and also with a lot of time thought out. Of course, they had too much time on their hand and delighted in some kind of mathematics that the rest of us normal human beings has a hard time to understand. Even though the terminology might seem to be rather abstract, the basic problem is given to us by holy scripture. The Trinitarian dogma is, therefore, an effort to understand how do we speak properly about the one God? That's the basic proposition. How do we speak properly about the one God? How do we speak properly about Jesus? How do we speak properly about the Holy Spirit? Now, these are big questions. And it's no wonder that it took the church quite some time to actually come to conclusions and that there were a lot of dead end streets on that way to the final goal. It took the church about 400 years to come up with a formulation that was universally accepted and which we still use. The creed we use at communion Sundays, the Nicene Creed, is the result of that concerted effort during 400 years. The Council of Nicea in 325 and of Constantinople in 381 formulated this creed and gave us the basic terminology that there is one God, that there is the unity. Essence, and that, on the other hand, there is a distinction in God which is called that there are three persons in God. What was excluded by that? Excluded were ideas that there is one God and this God, through history, plays different roles. In the Old Testament, he is the Father. And then a new age starts, the time of the New Testament. So God switches roles and now becomes the Son. The Son then ascends into heaven, and God takes upon Himself another role. The Holy Spirit. That was called modalism because Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as just different modes of God. That was rejected because it would make a sham out of Christ, for example, praying to the Father. For how can you understand the baptism of Christ when he is being baptized, then there is the Father's voice coming from heaven, and the spirit is appearing in the form of a dove. If you say, oh, there is no real distinction between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are just three different stages in the life of God. Another option that was excluded was adoptionism. It was said that only the Father is truly God. What about Jesus then? He is called God. Well, he's only called God. It's a kind of a title of honor. Like if you call the former President of the United States still Mr. President, it's a title of honor. He's not really in charge anymore. So Christ can be called God, but 9 he is not truly God. He was a man who was empowered by God in a very great measure. But when you ask, is he God or creature? The answer has to be creature. The Holy Spirit? Well, the Holy Spirit is simply a power of God. This answer tries to safeguard monotheism but, of course, you lose Jesus as true God and the Holy Spirit as true God. A third option that was excluded by the dogma of Nicea and Constantinople is tritheism. That there are actually three gods. That was never really popular. Because, after all, the Biblical witness that there is but one God was too strong. Tritheism, by the way, has been revived in modern times by Mormonism that teaches that there are three different gods. Even that, well, we all can become gods. So the unique Christian concept follows God's revelation in history as it is accounted in holy scripture and as it culminates in the person of Christ. From this scriptural witness, we learn that God is one and also the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct and that they are truly God. God is three in one. That's the distinct Christian concept of God. (End of DOG15.WMV.)