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God with Us

God with Us by K. Scott Oliphint

Not having much familiarity with Van Til nor Oliphint's other books, I believe I was stepping into deep waters when I sent off for this book from Crossway. Instead of going on about what I did not understand about the book (which was much), I want to examine some things that I not only understood but were crucial in the discussion.

The purpose of the book in the beginning is to "think biblically about who God is" (9), and in doing so we might more adequately worship him (11). This purpose statement is right on track with the goal of doctrine in the biblical life, not as some separate mental engagement, but a mental engagement that fuels our whole being in worship. Following this notion, Oliphint proposes that a proper view of God and his attributes is only really understood as we relate in to the Son of God, Jesus Christ (knowledge of him). In posing this thesis, he takes into account some aberrations with respect to God's character and attributes in his introduction. I felt a bit like I was entering a boxing match in which the author was the champion and he was beating down his opponents. Yet, when I looked at the contenders in the bout (open view theism, Peter Enns and his book Inspiration and Evangelicals, and the philosophy of Stephen T. Davis). Suffice it to say, I do think it is very important to reiterate Oliphint's distinction between God as he is in himself and God as he is in relationship to his creation. The final goal of open-view thought is that God is `essentially dependent on the world in order to be who he is and to act" (33). If we believe that God is essentially unaffected by his creation and he is above it, then we will not allow a position such as open view to cloud our view.

Lastly, Oliphint helpfully gives credence to antinomies and paradoxes regading God's character and decree. I heartily agree that we need to keep in mind what an antimony is when relating to God's character ("two or more entities that in some sense contain laws or operations that seem to be in conflict and resist reconciliation by us" 36).

Oliphint's discussion of Exodus 3 and God telling Moses and thus his people "I AM WHO I AM" is very helpful in speaking of the self-existence of God and his immanence. Oliphint writes, "Both the name and the act (of the unburning bush) imply the immanence of this God....They picture and look forward to the ideal of Emmanuel, God with us...The fire, like God, is in need of nothing in order to be what it is. It transcends the earthly...but in his transcendence is able to dwell among his people" (59). One, the significance of God's naming and acting is in accordance with the entire corpus of Scripture, from the very beginning of creation to the end. We often forget the sense that God's words and his deeds go together. Often, his deeds interpret his words in a very symbolic and powerful way. Secondly, God is not committed to remain aloof from his people, but seeks to dwell tangibly with them in various ways (i.e. burning bush). From God walking in Garden of Eden, to the burning push, to the penultimate event of the Incarnation, God's immanence cannot be forgotten. In talking about the service of worship and liturgy, the concepts of transcendence and immanence can be very meaningful in developing a biblical notion of God.

I thought the discussion regarding Eimi and eikon was a good foray into helping people discern how we both reflect characteristics of God and how God is the utterly transcendent one (90). Not only this, but the `universe too shows forth the characteristics of God' (91). How do we understand this distinction? Oliphint carries us through this terrain by pointing out that `the actual thoughts of God cannot by thought by us' but `we have the thoughts of God available to us by way of his revelation' (92). God has voluntarily condescended to reveal to us something of his character in order that we might image back to him those same characteristics. Put more succinctly, we are forever lost without God stooping down and revealing himself to us. Yet, this type of revealing is not as God knows himself but is mediated revelation. I thought that one application of this was a greater appreciation of the men that God used in revealing his Word (authors of the biblical books). They bore witness to the revelation of God in language and thoughts patterns that the people could understand, be changed by, and in turn bring true worship back to God.

Lastly, Oliphint carefully talks about what it means that God condescended. He says, "We mean that God freely determined to take on attributes, characteristics, and properties that he did not have, and would not have, without creation. In his taking on these characteristics,...they cannot be of the essence of who he is, nor can they be necessary to his essential identity as God" (110). Oliphint uses the term covenantal properties to describe these characteristics of condescension. What he means is that God is in no way constrained by his actions of condescension but does so both voluntarily and with the goal of redemption in mind (112). Throughout the book, Oliphint is careful to make the distinction between God's essential attributes and those which he takes on (covenantal properties) in his condescension. We see this carried out uniquely in the incarnation.

I thought this book was very good in seeking to apply the principles of sound theological reasoning and Scripture to describe God's attributes and character. Often, we see a one-sided philosophical understanding of God's character without primary interaction with biblical texts. Oliphint makes it clear that he is both guided by a presupposition of God's being wholly unique and yet seeking to make himself known. Much more discussion could be made of his understanding of the incarnation, but I will let the reader seek that for themselves.

The only criticism I have is that I had a great difficulty in understanding some of the philosophical language and some of the theologians and thinkers (Turretin, Aquinas, Plantinga). This is probably due to my own lack of study but I still felt this book was in places somewhat difficult to understand. Yet, the read was worth the effort and I commend it to anyone wanting a great discussion of God's character.

Much thanks to Crossway Books for the review copy of the book.


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