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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 2 "God" Sec. A. "God the Father"

"God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace. He is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise. God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. He is fatherly in His attitude toward all men."

One of the things in this section that I want to discuss is the distinction made between "Father in truth" and "fatherly in His attitude."

It seems that the F&M here wants to affirm both the scriptural truth that fallen sinful human beings are only made spiritual sons and daughters of God by the adoption that comes with salvation by faith in Christ the eternal Son, as well as the scriptural truth that God rules with providential care over men such that He extends common grace to all men and gives rain and sunshine both to the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45).

While common grace is an extraordinarily important category to affirm from Scripture--the truth that God's mercy is over all His Creation (Psalm 145:9)--it may be slightly misleading to use the language of "fatherly attitude" toward all men. Clearly, there is a difference in at least the kind of "fatherly attitude" God had toward Israel as opposed to the nations He used Israel to drive out of the promised land and utterly destroy. Yes, God loves all men and desires their salvation in at least one sense. But covenantally speaking, God graciously entered into covenant with the nation of Israel alone, and that not for any reason having to do with their righteousness or might compared to other nations. God bound Himself to Israel as her Husband, as Christ does the Church in the New Covenant. And there's a difference between the fatherly attitude of God toward His covenant people (who have repented and trusted in Him ultimately because of His gracious work in their hearts) and His posture of readiness and good will toward those even outside the covenants. The difference is nowhere more clearly seen than in the scriptural texts that also speak of God's hatred for and anger with unrepentant sinners (for example, see Psalm 5:5). Such things are never said of God's attitude toward the Church.

"Fatherly in His attitude toward all men" gets at an important aspect of the universal love and essentially gracious character of God, but for those who recognize the category of sonship under God as primarily a scriptural category of salvation in Christ by faith, it may threaten to blur the distinction between being "in Adam" and "in Christ." It may fail to adequately articulate the important distinction between common and saving grace.

I'm personally more comfortable with the language of "common grace" than with "fatherly attitude toward all men," but as long as the above distinctions are kept in mind, I don't have any final or overwhelming problems with the phrase used in the F&M. We must affirm that God the Father has the personal attributes we would expect of a "divine father." He is the ultimate provider of human needs, He loves His Creation, and shows mercy to all men.

The only other thing I would mention about this section is that I would prefer a stronger statement of God's providence over history than that He reigns over the "flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace." "Flows" and "streams" sound too vague and generalized. I believe the Bible teaches God's exhaustive, active governing of the details of history according to the purposes of self-glorification especially in dispensing grace. Passages that give credence to this idea would include, among others: Proverbs 16:33; Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11; Isaiah 46:8-11.

Obviously this idea creates theological problems that the Bible addresses to an extent, although perhaps not to our ultimate intellectual satisfaction. But the idea of God's exhaustive, actively exercised sovereignty over the minutia of all history is designed by God to give comfort and encouragement to believers, and to cause His people to trust that He is wisely working gracious and holy purposes even through all the evil and suffering that occurs in the He has decretally intended to come to pass from all eternity (though He commands against and disapproves of the evil committed by the sinful human and demonic moral agents). We see the clearest examples of this dynamic in the stories of Joseph (summed up in Joseph's word to his brothers in Genesis 50:20) and the crucifixion of Christ as explained by the apostles after the fact (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28). The only reason I make the theological leap to applying the same dynamic to all of the rest of history as well is the presence of passages like those listed above about God's sovereignty and providence more generally. They speak just as strongly about all of history.

Again, I may be quibbling over mere semantics. It is likely that the vagueness in this section of the F&M is intentional to allow for a variety of specific views on God's providence among churches wishing to align themselves and cooperate with the SBC. And no one should be faulted for that. Fellowship ought not to be broken over such details of doctrine. Not to say that even details of doctrine are unimportant, but this specific issue is something that the Church universal has wrestled with understanding and articulating for 2000 years now. Still, my personal conviction on the issue remains, and I pray the Church (including myself) will grow in unity and understanding in this area until we all attain to the fullness of spiritual maturity in Christ!

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