Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Berkhof’s Systematic Theology (Part One, Chapter Five): The Attributes of God in General

Part One
The Doctrine of God (The Being of God)
V. The Attributes of God in General
A. Evaluation of the Terms Used.
B. Method of Determining the Attributes of God.
C. Suggested Divisions of the Attributes.

A. Evaluation of the Terms Used.

Berkhof prefers the term “properties” over against “attributes” as pointing to that which is proper to God alone. However, even this term has its own weakness as some of the attributes are communicable and not proper to God alone. Even more so, he likes the terms “perfections” or “virtues” though in using the latter it must be clear that these virtues are not added to the being of God but that his virtues reveal his Being. “They may be defined as the perfections which are predicated of the Diving Being in Scripture, or are visibly exercised by Him in His works of creation, providence, and redemption” (p. 52).

B. Method of Determining the Attributes of God.

The scholastics sought to determine the attributes of God in their understanding of natural theology and did so largely in three ways:

via causalitatis - determining the ultimate cause from the effects we see in the world.
via negationis - removing from God all of the imperfections seen in his creatures to understand him as the perfect Being.
via eminentiae - the relative perfections found in man are ascribed to God in absolute perfection.

Modern theologians seek to understand the attributes of God through experimental theology. In this concept “we may begin with our intuitions of the reality of God, those unreasoned certitudes which are firmly rooted in immediate experience” (p. 53). One way of doing this is to understand man’s needs and see God as the one who meets those needs.

To these methods Berkhof writes that they “take their starting point in human experience rather than in the Word of God. They deliberately ignore the clear self-revelation of God in Scripture and exalt the idea of the human discovery of God…the only proper way to obtain perfectly reliable knowledge of the divine attributes is by the study of God’s self-revelation in Scripture” (p. 53-54).

C. Suggested Divisions of the Attributes.

There have been many suggestions by theologians as to how to divide the attributes of God. “The most common distinction is that between incommunicable and communicable attributes. The former are those to which there is nothing analogous in the creature, as aseity, simplicity, immensity, etc.; the latter those to which the properties of the human spirit bear some analogy, as power, goodness, mercy, righteousness, etc” (p. 55).