Stephen Nichols (SN): We are talking about the history of the doctrine of God, and we have a special guest: Dr. James Dolezal. Dr. Dolezal, welcome.
James Dolezal (JD): Glad to be here. Thanks.
SN: Dr. Dolezal is a professor at Cairn University in Pennsylvania, where he teaches theology, church history, and philosophy. He’s the author of two books: God without Parts and All That Is in God. Dr. Dolezal, you have spent quite a lot of time thinking about the doctrine of God.
JD: Yes, I have.
SN: Can you help us see some of the high points in regard to the doctrinal development and the history behind how theologians have thought about doctrine of God?
JD: First of all, we should say that in five minutes we can’t cover all that is in God.
SN: One of God’s attributes is that He is infinite.
JD: Yes, He is infinite.
SN: So how do we squeeze this into a finite time?
JD: Right, but when we look at how Christians have thought about God from the Scriptures and through church history, we see that from the beginning of the early church there was a strong emphasis on the unity of God. The Shepherd of Hermas, a Christian work written sometime before AD 150, exhorts readers to remember that God is one and that God is incomprehensible. These are early commitments concerning who God is that are held by Christians in general. They aren’t debated; they aren’t sectarian ideas. They are what would we could call catholic ideas—universal and common to all who name the name of Christ—that God is one. Also, the early church worshiped Christ as God and honored Him, and quite deliberately so, distinguishing Christ from angels and from mere humans, but always and uniquely offering Him the worship that is due to God alone. This brought the church into a commitment to monotheism that is also a Trinitarian commitment. It wasn’t called Trinitarian initially—it was not until later in the second century that the word triad began to be applied to the Godhead, and it was not until Tertullian, in the third century, that the term trinitas entered the Christian vocabulary. Nevertheless, Christians even in the early church held to one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and these three are distinct, yet not three distinct gods. There are a number of features or attributes of God that Protestants and Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have traditionally confessed with regard to God’s nature. One is incomprehensibility, the idea that, while God can be known through His revelation and confessed, we cannot capture God in some one-to-one scientific way.
SN: God is transcendent.
JD: Yes, they have all confessed that He is transcendent, and—if I could say it this way—God’s greatness always exceeds our greatest thoughts of His greatness. God is greater than your greatest thought of God, and He is worthier to be worshiped with a greater worship than the greatest worship you could ever give Him. This superabundance is always something that shines like a light, a glory over Christian worship. Never do we think we capture Him with our worship.
SN: This is very helpful. I think as we begin, we need to think in terms of the Trinity.
SN: So, we have God as one in the unity of the Godhead, and we also have God as a Trinity. What we’re really talking about is we can’t have enough superlative language to start. Is that what you’re trying to help us to see here? What these early theologians helped us to see?
JD: Yes, that’s right. There isn’t some ceiling to God’s glory so that we could in some way quantify Him and package Him. Even when we speak of His greatness, there’s an abiding sense that His greatness is, as Thomas Aquinas says, “unfathomable.” The sense of the unfathomableness of the greatness of God is one that permeates the early Christian faith and is one that, by the grace of God, has been retained by the church down through subsequent centuries.
SN: Well, that’s a great place for us to pause. Let’s come back and talk again about the doctrine of God.