Answering Questions About Our Theology, by Gary Deddo
The label, “Incarnational Trinitarian theology” is descriptive rather than prescriptive for our doctrinal statements. Our critics sometimes want to label our theological perspective as Barthian or Torrancian or whatever. But at best, such labels are only partially descriptive. Any similarities are definitely not prescriptive. Prescriptive for us is the reality of who God has revealed himself to be in Jesus Christ according to Scripture. Our theological formulations are derived from and meant to point faithfully to that reality, which exceeds what can be contained in our theological understandings.
When we quote any theologians positively, or even when the historic Christian creeds are referenced, they are being used as illustrative of our theological position, not as a source or final norm of it. They show that other members of the Body of Christ at other times and places grasped the biblical revelation in a way similar to how we have come to understand it. It demonstrates that we are concerned not to be esoteric or eccentric in our teaching and that we believe that other members of the Body of Christ can be helpful to us, saying at least as well, if not better than ourselves, how we understand God’s Word.
Given what is noted above, the label “Incarnational Trinitarian theology” is not meant to indicate that we hold to a special (or superior) form of Christianity. It indicates that the center and heart of our faith and worship corresponds to the center and heart of the revelation of the gospel itself – just as the historic, orthodox church has done down to this day. This label reminds us of the core reality of who God is and has revealed himself to be in and through Jesus Christ, according to Scripture. It also represents the nature of our renewal and restoration to true Christian faith, which we have come to share with the Christian church. If others have been pushed or pulled off-center, we hold out to them these foundational truths, from which flow all other Christian doctrines, that they might also be renewed and restored in their faith and worship.
Some critics say we don’t make distinctions between believers and non-believers because of the way we speak of God having a oneness of mind, heart and purpose towards all. Though it is not true, they say we teach universalism. Why do they come to this wrong conclusion? Because they make inferences from our statements about God to our views about his creatures. “If God regards all the same way, then all must regard God the same way.” But we do not come to our understanding through logical inferences made from a single affirmation about God. That would be bad theology and bad logic. No simple logical inference is ever necessarily true, most especially when moving from God to talking about creatures.
It seems that their critique of our theology is a mirror-image of how their own theology works. Seeing a difference between believers and non-believers, they then imagine a corresponding difference in God. They make a simple logical inference, but this time in the reverse direction: from a description of the differences among humans to what God then must prescribe for that difference among humans. We do not reason in that way. Doing so would, in our view, constitute mythological projection, which is idolatry. Doing so would mean concluding something about what God prescribes from a description of individual creatures or a class of them. John Calvin made this mistake in reasoning in his polemical writings about predestination. Thankfully, he did not succumb to that faulty reasoning in most of his writings on theology (in his Institutes and elsewhere).
Typically, the difference between our viewpoint and that of those who criticize it, is that we start with God’s self-revelation as the criterion for our statements about God (“only God reveals God”). We do not start with our own, or even the Bible’s descriptions of how humans respond differently to God and then logically infer something about who God is and what God wants for his human creatures. Descriptions of human creatures and of their potential eternal situations, either by means of our own observations or by reference to isolated biblical passages interpreted out of context, do not prescribe for us a definitive revelation of who God is and what he wants. Jesus Christ alone, according to divine revelation (Scripture) alone, prescribes for us our trust in and understanding of God’s heart, mind, purposes and character. On that basis, we conclude that God is a redeemer who has a redemptive nature and heart, does not want any to perish, but wants all to repent and receive eternal life. That is, God is identical in character to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Some condemn or dismiss our theological stance by labeling it universalism, Aminianism or Calvinism. However, we have no need to be aligned with a particular school of theology. Though each school has understandings deserving our consideration, each also has significant weaknesses that obscure important, even crucial elements of the biblical revelation. Those weaknesses have not only been identified by us but have been brought to light in the ongoing discussions and debates down through the history of the church. While we share faith in the same realities as do all Christians, our theological understanding and articulation does not fall neatly along the lines drawn in the typical universalist-Arminian-Calvinist debates.
Those who are satisfied with one of these primary theological traditions and insist that these are the only options, will probably not be able to properly hear our theological testimony or grasp its source and norm the way we do. Their critiques likely will assume that we have bought into the one or two theological options they have rejected – ones that might include being “incarnational” or “Trinitarian.”
While we can offer our reasons for why and how we understand the Christian faith the way we do, we don’t have to accept any labels nor defend the one we use. We are simply trying to be as faithful as we can in understanding and explaining the biblical revelation. We hold out our convictions to our members for their benefit and to others in hope that they might be renewed and blessed as we have been as the Lord has corrected and restored us.
It was not a particular theology or theologian who transformed us. Rather, it was Jesus Christ, speaking through his Holy Word, who revealed to us the true nature and character of God. Grace Communion International was grasped by the gospel of Jesus Christ, as our Lord placed himself at the center of our worship and faith. If the label “Incarnational Trinitarian theology” properly describes that transformation, then we accept it. However, we have no need to defend a label, for it prescribes nothing.