What is God (part 1); Playing dress up...

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God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. WSC Q4 (emphasis mine)

That's how the Shorter Catechism answers "What is God?" The Westminster Confession has more to say but the focus is the same: a description of what amounts to "attributes" concluding with the Western formulation of the Trinity. None of these descriptions are wrong. I affirm them wholeheartedly. But should we start with attributes?

What are we describing when we begin with the "attributes of God"? Let me rephrase that: Who are we describing? 

At first it's difficult to answer the question. If "what" is in view, we're probably describing God's "essence", His "substance" or "nature." It's of no small consequence that the possessive "his" or "God's" precedes this "what." But even so, we're left with "Who?"

Detectives do their best to determine whose body they've found before turning it over to the coroner for an autopsy. But here we are, giddy as we pick apart the parts of God long before we've stopped to consider Who God is...

Doubt it? Look through systematic theologies. With few exceptions they begin the doctrine of God with His attributes, only to arrive after pages of lengthy and arcane discussion at a relatively brief (and awkward) homage to the Trinity.

Reformed Christians typically start with a generic description of God's attributes and we're the ones with the thickest multi-volume systematics. Note how many "attributes of God" books are available through Christian booksellers: here's a search of Monergism and another of CBD. Sadly, while there is some good stuff in Grudem's systematic, he also begins with God's attributes.

This approach has led to our divorcing God's essence from His hypostases (Father, Son, and Spirit). This is why a study beginning with God's "attributes" cannot transition to a lesson on the incarnation. God didn't give us a scalpel to divide Himself up. The reason a lesson can't easily shift from attributes to incarnation is that you have to pack things back together in the context of hypostases and, when your hands are full with a bunch of attributes, it's hard to know where everything goes. "Essence" divorced from hypostases is generic. Undifferentiated. 

Moderns can embrace the notion of a generic god. A generic god is an androgynous God—a god that can manifest in any number of ways. It need not be masculine. Maybe its feminine? But no, the notion of femininity presupposes a patriarchal vocabulary, so this god is soooo generic that "he/she/it" transcends "gender."

We're ill-equipped to battle the heresy of feminism because our very approach to describing God accommodates this heresy. The door was left open to a form of modalism no one could have anticipated a few generations ago. Church Fathers of centuries past were ready to battle, but after generations of slumber, today's would-be fathers can't muster the faith to fight. Fighting is so passe, and every modern says "Amen!"

Maybe God need not "manifest" in "masculine" ways, but God can manifest in other ways. If God is not "bound" to manifest in a purely masculine way, then when it comes to sex, our feet are firmly planted in mid-air. Billy can dress in mommy's clothes because God "manifests" in diverse ways...playing dress up and changing out wardrobes for successive generations.

We need to begin our theology of God with the Father, the "fount of divinity" and no generic essence. God is the Father; the generative source. Rooted in Him is God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. As the Westminster Confession says:

The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

Instead of arriving there later, let's start there. That's where the battle lines are drawn.

Craig French is a former deacon and member at Christ the Word (PCA) in Toledo, OH. He and his wife Tai have four daughters.