I am sharing some thoughts from God in the Wasteland (Eerdmans, 1994) by David Wells. According to Wells, this book deals with how “cultural factors influenced the evangelical church and what steps need “to be taken to reverse the situation” (ix).
If it is the case that today we are suffocated by anthropocentric religion, then we need to recover that which is theocentric. If ours is an age much delighted by divine immanence and much given to perversions of that immanence, then we need to recover a sense of God’s transcendence (116).
God is transcendent because he is self-sufficient, owing nothing to the creation for his own life, and so powerful that he can always act within that creation. He is dependent on nothing outside of himself for the realization of his will but, because the creation is always and at every moment dependent upon him, he is always over it. On the other hand, he is transcendent because his utter moral purity separates him from all of human life and defines him in his essential character (116).
Unless God is understood to be transcendent in his holiness, the world can have no objective moral meaning, no accountability beyond itself, no assurance of salvation from guilt through Christ’s death, and, in the end, no assurance that God will be the final line of resistance to all that is evil. And without this assurance, the hope dies that one day truth will be put forever on the throne and evil forever on the scaffold (117).
What damage has modernity done to the church’s appropriation of the doctrine of God? I believe the greatest loss we have suffered is not a matter of any particular aspect of God but rather of his place in the church and, beyond that, in society. If modernity is successful in diminishing the reality of God, in emptying him of his significance by pushing him to the periphery of interest, then it will manage to strip the church of the one thing that makes it the church. The church is nothing if it does not belong to God, and it ceases to belong to him when it loses a full-blooded understanding of him, when it ceases to be fully obedient to him, when it no longer worships in awe before him, when it gives up faithful service in his name (120-121).
The church’s awareness that it belongs to God at once mentally, morally, and spiritually, is dependent on an awareness that God stands outside the currents of modernity and, in important ways, over against them. The fact that he is holy means there is an otherness to him (121).
Texts that speak of the greatness of God’s being and character, of his being elevated or “above” this world. The Psalmist declares that God dwells “on high,” for example (113:5; cf. 99:2–3), that his “greatness is unsearchable” and he is “greatly to be praised” (145:3). Isaiah, who had seen him in a vision sitting on a throne, “high and lifted up” (6:1), returned to the implications of this vision later when he saw God effortlessly exercising complete sovereignty over all creation (40:12–14), over all of human history (40:15–20), and in the lives of individual people (40:21–26). Similar references appear throughout the New Testament (e.g., in Rom. 1:10; Eph. 1:4–5; Col. 4:12). Stephen expressed his confidence in God’s sovereignty when he gave his final speech, calling him the “Most High” (Acts 7:48). (122-123).
While the Father and Son must be personally distinguished from one another, they cannot be disengaged, because they each fully share the same divine nature. Holiness, then, ought not to be associated exclusively or even predominantly with the Father, nor love with the Son. Jesus may address his Father as “Holy Father” (John 17:11) but the Father cannot be other than the God of love (1 John 4:16; 2 Cor. 13:11; 2 Thess. 3:5) whose love Jesus cites (Luke 11:42; John 5:42). And, while Jesus embodied God’s love, he was not other than completely holy (130).
What do you think? More to come.