Systematic Theology 9: The Existence of God

How do we know that God exists?

This week see’s us start part 2 of Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology. So far we’ve covered The Doctrines of the Word of God. And now, we are looking at the Doctrines of God.

My mentor once told me, systematic theology studies are usually divided over what to look at first. God or the Bible. It’s a bit like the chicken and the egg. Theology is, by definition, the study of God. So intuitively we may assume the Doctrine of God should be studied first. However, since Systematic Theology is our knowledge about God as defined by the whole of scripture, it is important that we establish what Scripture claims for itself first.

In short, it doesn’t really matter, and there is a lot of overlap.

Reading chapter 9, felt a little like re-visiting my RE classes back in secondary school.

Wayne Grudem outlines four main approaches to believing God’s existence.

1) Our inner sense of God (which is intensified by the Holy Spirit for Christians, and alluded to in Scripture – see Romans 1:19,21,25)

2) The Evidence of God in Scripture and Nature (we are told the heavens declare God’s glory, that the seasons of fruitfulness demonstrate His mercy – see Acts 14:17 & Psalm 19:1)

3) The Traditional proofs – these were covered for most students in Religious Studies classes at school. A quick google search will find good elaborations on them. (Sorry I don’t have time now to re-hash them!) They included the Comological Argument (First Cause), Teleological Argument (Intelligent Design), Ontological Argument (The “Greatest” thing must be real in order to be the “greatest”) and the Moral Argument (see point 1).

Interestingly, Grudem concedes that these traditional arguments are true whether we are convinced by them or not. But that, they themselves, cannot bring to saving faith the lost. This is because of the Doctrine of the Sufficiency and Necessity of Scripture.

4) Finally, we are told that only God can overcome our sin (which blinds us) and enable us to be persuaded by His existence. 1 Corinthians 1:21 reminds us that human wisdom is inadequate, we are dependent on Him to bring us life.

Please see my notes below:

Systematic Theology 7: The Four Characteristics of Scripture (3) Necessity

Fun fact an easy way to remember how to spell Necessary is: Never Eat Cheese Eat Salad Sandwiches And Remain Young. Necessity is only changing the last three letters.

In this chapter we’re continuing our study of the four characteristics of scripture. We’ve already covered Authority (& Inerancy), Clarity and now [Never eat…]cessity.

The Necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life and for knowing God’s will, BUT it is not necessary for knowing something about God’s character.

Notice how this definition gives us three things we need the Scripture for, and one thing we don’t.

Necessary for Knowledge of the Gospel – This is mostly justified from Romans 10:13-17. Which reasons that in order to be saved we need to call on the Lord’s name, but in order to do that we need to believe in Him. In order to believe in Him, we need to hear about Him.

In this way one must read the gospel or hear it told to them in order to be saved. I have written about this elsewhere, in: “what about Jesus-dreams”. Where I wrestled with this Doctrine, on the basis of the stories I’d heard where people have had dreams/visions about Jesus and become Christians without the Bible.

Necessary for Maintaining Spiritual Life – Again, this is mostly justified by Matthew 4:4 where Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy “Man shall not live on bread alone”. But I guess we could also use 2 Timothy 3:16, where is says that all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

Necessary for certain knowledge of God’s will – We may have some knowledge of God’s will without it, but certain knowledge is different. Even if we could conceive a way for God’s justice and mercy to be reconciled, we wouldn’t have enough certainty on it for it to save us.

He has not revealed everything in the scriptures, obviously there is no knowledge of nuclear physics etc, but we do have enough that we may know His will (Deuteronomy 29:29).

From a philosophical point of view, the Bible is necessary for certain knowledge about anything. Because either we know everything (which we don’t). Or we have the words of Someone who knows everything and who never lies.

HOWEVER:

The Bible is NOT necessary for knowing that God exists (or some of His attributes) – The Bible tells us that the heaven’s declare His glory (Psalm 19:1), that rain and fruitful seasons are signs of God’s blessing (Acts 14:16-17) and that God’s invisible qualities have been made known to all so that no one is without excuse (Romans 1:19-21).

Wayne Grudem makes a distinction between “general revelation” and “specific revelation”. Whereas general revelation is available to all as a result of God’s general grace to all people, specific revelation is what God has specifically made know through the Scriptures. (see notes below for more detail).

The Bible is NOT not necessary for knowing something of God’s character or moral laws – Therefore we are still guilty of sin even if we never hear the gospel (Romans 1:32, 2:14-15). The law has been written on our hearts.

This doctrine should make us inspired and challenged to proclaim the gospel as Romans 10 reminds us: How can they call on One they have not heard about, and how can they hear unless someone tells them!”

Systematic Theology 5: The Four Characteristics of Scripture (1.5) Inerrancy

In my defence the book does say “Four characteristics” even though it gives five. This is the bonus one, Inerrancy’. It is usually covered under ‘Authority’ (see previous post). But due to the cultural context of today, where ‘truth’ is considered more and more subjective and God’s word is seen as an optional Pick N Mix, it needed its own chapter.

The Inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. The Bible always tells the truth and it does so concerning everything it talks about.

I was personally, really glad it got it’d own chapter. As I have found that the truthfulness of scripture is one of the “barriers of belief” for so many people.

Wayne Grudem clarifies that the Bible can be inerrant and still speak the ordinary language of everyday speech. For example talking about the “sun rising” even though the sun doesn’t technically “rise”.

He uses the helpful comparison of phrases which are all true/inerrant, and yet different. Consider:

  • I don’t live far from my office
  • I live a little over a mile from my office
  • I live a mile from my office
  • I live 1.282 miles from my office

Therefore, Biblical statements can be imprecise and still be true: Inerrancy is about the truthfulness, not about the degrees of precision. Such a helpful distinction.

He then outlines six common challenges to inerrancy, (see below for full notes) and then counters each one providing helpful reasoning.

Finally, he raises four problems for a Christian who denies the Inerrancy of Scripture. These include 1) a moral problem (should we imitate a God who lies), 2) a trust problem (can we trust a God who lies/bends truth), 3) an idol problem (do we become the judge of truth) and 4) a doctrine problem (if we can ignore minor doctrines why can’t we ignore major ones).

Please see below my full notes. As always if you are interested in buying this book and studying it for yourself or following along, please do use my affiliate link and support the blog.

Systematic Theology 3: The Canon of Scripture

Please find below, my notes for Systematic Theology Chapter 3: The Canon of Scripture. This chapter gives a historical account of the formation of the Bible.

It starts with the story of how the Old Testament was constructed, who came up with the idea to write God’s words down. Why it didn’t stop with the 10 commandments and has been expanded into the Law, Prophets, Songs and History books.

It then goes on to explain how the New Testament was compiled, that each author was essentially an apostle (or had close association with one of the apostles), they claim to have been written with the authority of God and remain consistent with the rest of Scripture.

Finally this chapter then examined the various candidates for addition or removal of other books.

Systematic Theology 2: The Word of God

Systematic Saturday!

Please find below, my notes for Systematic Theology Chapter 2: The Word of God. In this chapter Wayne Grudem outlines the different forms of the ‘Word of God’: As Jesus (John 1:1 & 14) and as speech.

He then looks at the different types of God’s speech (Decrees, Words of personal address, through human lips and in written form). Grudem’s attention for his study on Systematic Theology will be with the written word of God. Because, in written form, the words of God are:

  • More accurately presented
  • Are able to be inspected repeatedly
  • Are accessible to many more people

For those of you who are interested in studying Systematic Theology, I would recommend starting with this book. If you wanted to buy it, I’ve become an Amazon affiliate, so you can buy if from this link and in turn support the blog.