How Do We Talk About God: Classifying His Attributes

We can only say anything about God because we must say something. One of the most common ways of speaking about God is to discuss his attributes- those truths of God’s existence that He has reveled to us. Generally, God’s attributes are placed into one of two groupings. Some of those groupings (and the men who use them) are:

Incommunicable Communicable Grudem, Berkhof, Bavinck, Shedd
God is great God is good Erickson
Perfections of the Divine Freedom Perfections of the Divine Loving Barth, Weber
Deus absconditus (hidden God) Deus revelatus (Revealed God) Luther
Constitutional Personality Chafer
a se (in Himself) pro nobis (toward us) Photios
ousios (essence) energeia(energy, operations) Palamas
theologia economia  
Absolute/Immanent Relative/Transitive Strong
natural moral  
absolute relative  
original derived  
intransitive transitive  
Light Love 1 John
One For Us Romans

Of course, all such discussion and classifications are carried out in the knowledge of our inadequacy to the task and the very impossibility of it.

“An actual division of the attributes of God is not conceivable. Therefore every ordering has the actual intent of making indivisible (yet distinguishable) factors evident.”  (Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics, vol. 1, p. 428)

“…God and his attributes are one. The attributes cannot be considered as so many parts that enter into the composition of God, for God is not, like men, composed of different parts. Neither can they be regarded as something added to the Being of God, though the name, derived from ad and tribuere, might seem to point in that direction, for no addition was ever made to the being o God, who is eternally perfect.” (Lois Berkhof, Systematic Theology New Combined Edition, pp. 44-45)

“…the attributes are so interrelated and interdependent that the exact placing of some of them is difficult if not wholly impossible. It is evident that no feature of Systematic Theology has occasioned more confusion and disagreement among theologians than has the attempt to order the category of the divine attributes.” (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 189)

 

 

 

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