God's Being and God's Love

When I attended Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City it was during its days as a “moderate” theological institution. In fact, it was liberal. Those days have changed thankfully. Indeed the year after I graduated (1995) a new president came on the scene and many needed faculty changes occurred. In His providence, God saw to it that the change did not happen until after I finished my degree.

There are times when I feel cheated. For instance, I did not read Luther’s Bondage of the Will or Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion or John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ until after I left Seminary. I was not required to read Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students in pastoral leadership classes. Extraordinary! I was not required to read Edwards, Bavinck, Warfield, Vos, Murray, or Machen. How can it be that a Southern Baptist seminary left out of its curriculum the most important evangelical scholars of the past five hundred years?

Interestingly, I was required to read and research such liberal theologians and scholars as Bultmann, Tillich, Barth, Pannenberg, and Moltmann. Those names probably do not mean much to many of you and, believe me, that is just fine. I read Tillich’s three volume Systematic Theology, Moltmann’s The Crucified God and Bultmann’s History of the Synoptic Tradition. These are important books insofar as they were and continue to be quite influential in the academy. However, that we studied these works without equal attention given to evangelical scholars is nothing less than malpractice on the part of the faculty.

Among the tragedies of the German liberal tradition is its recasting of the very being of God. For them, God was an abstract, not a being but being itself. Paul Tillich called God “the ground of all being.” In other words, God is not personal and identifiable. It is an idea that has much more in common with Buddhism than biblical faith. Indeed, Tillich said near the end of his life that had he life to do all over again he would be a Buddhist. Rudolf Bultmann denied the resurrection of Christ and all His miracles. He reasoned that the Bible must be “demythologized” for people who now had access to the electric light bulb could not possibly be expected to believe in the supernatural. Jurgen Moltmann (now in his eighties) has written some very helpful and insightful theology but in the end his conclusions are hopelessly flawed because of his shared convictions with those who deny the veracity of the Scriptures.

In all the theorizing of liberal theology and biblical scholarship what is most disturbingly lost is God Himself. What is left is either a substance-less intelligence or a being that bears striking resemblance to man complete with flaws and unrealized potential. How can such a concept of God be assimilated into Christianity? How can such blatant repudiation of the biblical witness be considered Christian in even the most general way? Interestingly, liberal theology wants to deny that the Bible is God’s special revelation but they don’t want to jettison the idea that God is love. Liberals deny that God is wrathful. They deny the reality of hell. They deny the substitutionary nature of the atonement. They deny that on the cross, Jesus was literally our sin-bearer. They deny the coming judgment. But they boldly affirm that God is love. But how can they hold to the concept of God’s love while denying almost everything else the Bible says about God? How can they have any confidence that God is love when they deny the very foundation of “thus says the Lord”?

Scottish theologian Donald MacLeod writes, “It is wholly remarkable, given the phenomena – the facts of sin and suffering – that the one notion retained from Scripture as being in some way self-evident, is that God is love. In fact, the retention of this emphasis on the divine love renders this whole new approach absurd and self-contradictory. ‘What does it mean,’ asks Lesslie Newbigen, ‘to say that love is the ground of our being, to which we ultimately come home, if we have first denied the existence of the Lover? What is love when there is no Lover?’ We cannot reject the notion of God as transcendent-personal and yet hope to retain the idea that love is His very heart. Such a concept can only survive in the soil in which it germinated – in the Hebrew-Christian tradition, committed beyond recall to the doctrine that God is being distinct from the universe, knowing it, loving it and provoked by it. Such a God may be infinitely more than what we mean by personal. He is certainly not less” (from "Behold Your God").