Editor says definition of God is growing doctrinal crisis

by James A. Smith Sr., posted Monday, March 17, 1997 (21 years ago)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--A growing battle over the doctrine of God may "dwarf" the biblical inerrancy controversy of recent years, according to the editor of a new theological journal.

Nothing less than the orthodox definition of God is the topic of the inaugural issue of "The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology," to be published quarterly by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

"American Christianity is currently locked in a struggle over the doctrine of God that in time may well make the battle for the Bible of the past 20 years look small in comparison," Paul House asserted. "Its implications are far reaching for all denominations, and no group that ignores this theological issue will survive with its ecclesiastical integrity and doctrinal purity unscathed."

Who is God? Is God fully sovereign? Is God able to do anything? Is God limited in some way? These questions and others are at the heart of the growing theological controversy, House said.

Appointed last fall by President R. Albert Mohler Jr., House is professor of Old Testament interpretation at Southern Seminary, Louisville, Ky. He previously taught 10 years at Taylor University, Upland, Ind. Mohler chose House in October to serve as the journal's first editor.

"For centuries Christians have agreed upon such biblical concepts as God's sovereignty, omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience," House said. "Believers generally assumed that members of other faith traditions were convinced that God does not change because God is inherently perfect and therefore not in need of alteration, evolution or growth."

Such assumptions can no longer be taken for granted, House said.

Unlike the inerrancy battle in which evangelicals were basically united, the crisis over the doctrine of God is heightened by advocacy of heterodox definitions among self-avowed evangelicals, House said.

An example of the doctrinal confusion on the subject among Baptists is Mercer University President Kirby Godsey's recent book, "When We Talk About God ... Let's Be Honest," House noted. Although the topic of the first journal was chosen before its release, House said the Godsey book "illustrates the need" for the new theological journal.

"As much as I might disagree with someone who doesn't agree with my doctrine of inspiration, 15 years ago we were not disagreeing with a lot of folks on God," House said, noting how dramatically the theological landscape has changed in recent years.

The battle over the doctrine of God is no "ivory tower" debate among academicians alone but will impact churches and believers in the pews, House contended.

This issue "will require pastors, teachers and laypeople to be more vigilant in their understanding of what's going on. I fear unless we are vigilant, our churches will be greatly weakened," House warned. "It's going to affect laypeople's faith and ability to deal with evil and suffering, their prayer life and their approach to their own theology."

The new journal replaces the Review & Expositor which had been the theological journal of Southern Seminary for 93 years before it was removed from the school by its editorial board in 1996. The seminary board of trustees approved creation of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology last April.

The reorganized board of the Review & Expositor is comprised of representatives from moderate Baptist seminaries and university divinity schools supported by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, as well as several faculty from Southern.

"The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology intends to be a positive partner with all parties, Baptist and otherwise, who hold to conservative evangelical convictions," House said. Although the journal is published by Southern Seminary, scholars across Southern Baptist life and evangelical academies will participate with Southern faculty in writing the journal.

"We need and welcome this support," House noted. "It will take a united and concerted effort for the battle for the definition of God to be won and world evangelization to proceed effectively."

The first issue of the journal includes contributions from evangelical scholars Carl F.H. Henry, D.A. Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and R. Douglas Geivett of Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Articles from Southern faculty include contributions by Mohler; Daniel Akin, dean of the school of theology; Craig Blaising, professor of Christian theology; Daniel I. Block, professor of Old Testament; and C. Ben Mitchell, assistant professor of Christian ethics. An exegetical sermon by Southern Baptist pastor Tim McCoy also is in the first issue.

"I think it's good for Southern Seminary to interact with as many like-minded evangelicals as possible," House said. "We can minister to the SBC and also to the broader evangelical world" by maintaining "a vision of helping the world understand God and living for him."

The sermon, as well as an editorial and a forum for discussion on important theological issues, are three unique features of the journal, according to House. The forum will offer "bite-size" treatments of issues from "significant thinkers" in the theological world.

"We hope these features of the journal will bridge scholarship to pastors, students and laypeople who are interested," House said, while noting the journal also intends to impact academia with strong evangelical scholarship.

The journal will print 2,500 copies of the first issue, a "very respectable number" in the enterprise of theological journal publishing, House said. He said he hopes the journal will one day challenge the circulation of the most widely read theological journal, the Journal of Biblical Literature, which has approximately 6,000 subscribers.

In addition to the inaugural issue, House said the journal will publish three more issues in 1997 focusing on: the gospel in the current cultural context; Christian higher education in the college context; and the Great Commission, which will be used as a textbook in the seminary's Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth.

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