Stephen Nichols (SN): Last time, we were interviewing Dr. James Dolezal of Cairn University about the history of the doctrine of God. He is here with us again today. Dr. Dolezal, welcome.
James Dolezal (JD): Thanks for having me.
SN: We’ve been talking about the history of the doctrine of God. Last time, we talked about the unity of God and the triunity of God—that God is a Trinity. Then, we talked about the unfathomableness of God. That was where we left off. Now that we have a solid foundation, let’s go from there. What do we need to know next about the doctrine of God? What do we see next in the historical development of this doctrine?
JD: Another attribute of God that was confessed by the early church was His simplicity, which means that God is not composed of parts. God does not have His Godness as the result of His attributes, as if they are added together to make God. God is not the summation of something more basic than Himself. I think the affirmation of God’s simplicity in the early church was really driven by the church’s deep fundamental commitment to God as the absolute Creator of heaven and earth and all that is in them. If God is the One from whom and through whom and to whom are all things, as Romans 11:36 says, then God can’t be composed of parts, because things that are composed of parts actually have sources of being more basic than themselves. Parts are constituents on which wholes depend.
JD: Since God does not depend upon anything that is not God in order to be God, He must be simple. In fact, Irenaeus, in his great work Against Heresies—an early defense of the church’s confession and belief—makes a statement about divine simplicity. He says, “All the pious are wont to speak this way concerning God.”
JD: From this, we get the sense that, early on, here in the late second century, the simplicity of God is already “Doctrine of God 101.” It’s standard language in the church’s thinking about God.
SN: Very few people mention that when they talk about the nature of God and the attributes of God. Very few start with simplicity.
JD: In fact, it sounds wrong to us, perhaps at first blush.
SN: It almost as if we are saying, “God is simple.”
JD: It seems insulting.
SN: Blasphemous, almost.
JD: If I called you “simplistic,” that wouldn’t be a compliment.
SN: I might not have you back.
JD: If I called God “simple,” though, I’m not saying that God is simplistic or even easy to understand.
SN: I heard you say this as something you say to your students, and here’s where we can see how this connects to living the Christian life: “If God were made of parts, He’d fall apart.”
JD: That’s right.
SN: Am I getting that right?
JD: I think you’re getting at the sense of it, because the whole point of God’s simplicity, especially for the Christian, is that if God is simple, God does not depend on something other than Himself to be Himself, and it’s for this reason that God is absolutely and utterly dependable. And I will say to my students, “The reason you can utterly depend upon God is because He won’t fall apart, and the reason He won’t fall apart is because He wasn’t made of parts to begin with.”
SN: That’s beautiful. Thank you. That’s the simplicity of God. I want to ask you about one more word: aseity. What is the aseity of God?
JD: This is a Christian doctrine that argues that God is of Himself, that He is a se, from the Latin “of Himself.” This means that the reason for God is God, and that God does not, in any respect, depend on something not Himself in order to know what He knows or to do what He does. The ultimate reason for anything God is or does is, in fact, God in His perfection of Godness. The early church was very insistent on these attributes, on the absolute irreducibility of God in His glory.
SN: We’re back again to the unfathomableness of God, aren’t we?
JD: Yes, we are.
SN: From that comes His goodness to us and to His creatures.
SN: Thank you, Dr. Dolezal, for giving us insight into the history of the doctrine of God.