How many of God’s traits can you list in 30 seconds? Compare your answers to the list of 16 traits below.
This article is by Gregg Allison and Chris Castaldo, adapted from their new book The Unfinished Reformation: What Unites and Divides Catholics and Protestants After 500 Years.
Catholics and Protestants generally agree on the nature of the triune God, affirming the following divine attributes in accordance with God’s own revelation of himself:
- Independence: God is self-existent; indeed, his very nature is to exist. Independence is the opposite of dependence or contingency, which is true of all created things. God is not dependent, and he cannot be dependent on anything or anyone else.
- Immutability: God is unchanging, the same yesterday, today, and forever. God is immutable in his (1) triune nature; (2) attributes, as presented in this section; (3) plan, that is, his purpose for all creation that he is bringing to pass; and (4) promises, all that he pledges to be and do for his people.
- Eternity: God always exists, not being bound by time. He has no beginning; God has always existed. He has no end; God will always exist. And God does not develop presently in terms of time-sequence. Indeed, God existed before time, which he created when he made the universe.
- Spirituality/Invisibility: God is an invisible, spiritual being, not composed of any material element. Because of God’s spiritual nature, no one has ever seen, or can see, God.
- Omnipresence: God is present everywhere, not being bound by space. Furthermore, it is not as though part of God is present in one place and another part in another place. Rather, God is present everywhere with his whole being at the same time.
- Omnipotence: God is all-powerful. He is able to do everything that is fitting for him as God to do. This means (thankfully) there are some things—for example, breaking his promises, ceasing to be God, sinning, lying—that God cannot do.
- Omniscience: God is all-knowing. He fully knows himself, the past, the present, the future, the decisions and actions of his creatures, all actual things, and all possible things. God does not grow in knowledge by learning new things.
- Wisdom: God always wills the highest purposes and the proper means to achieve those purposes for his own glory and his people’s blessing. Divine wisdom is clearly seen in creation, salvation, and the church.
- Truthfulness and Faithfulness: God always tells the truth and always fulfills his promises. Indeed, he cannot lie and cannot be unfaithful to his word.
- Love: God always gives of himself. Love eternally characterizes the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From this trinitarian love flows the creation of the world, which God continues to love even when it is hostile toward him. Indeed, God’s love is demonstrated in the sending of his Son to die for sinful people.
- Goodness/Grace/Mercy/Patience: God is kind and benevolent. He is good in and of himself, and all his ways in creation, providence, and salvation are good. In grace, God expresses his goodness to people who deserve condemnation. In mercy, God expresses his goodness to people who are distressed. In patience, God expresses his goodness by withholding punishment.
- Holiness: God is both exalted above creation and absolutely morally pure. Because of his transcendent holiness, God is completely separated from his creation. Because of his moral holiness, God is completely pure and uncorrupted by sin.
- Righteousness/Justice: God is upright in himself and in his ways. God himself is absolutely righteous and acts in ways that are perfect. He is just in establishing moral standards, requiring conformity to them, and judging people’s obedience and disobedience.
- Jealousy: God is protective of his honor. Because he alone is God, only he is worthy of ultimate allegiance. Thus, when people, who were created to honor God, honor something or someone else, God is provoked to jealousy.
- Wrath: God intensely hates sin and is ready to punish it fully. Because he is holy, God cannot approve anything that is not perfectly holy. Because he is righteous, God metes out punishment against anything that violates his right standards.
- Glory: God is infinitely beautiful because of who he is. This beauty is displayed as God manifests himself in creation, redemption, and consummation. Glory is also the magnificent splendor that shines from the revelation of God and his ways. Though these divine attributes may be named and defined in different ways, Catholics and Protestants acknowledge them as the characteristics of God.
— Gregg Allison and Chris Castaldo, The Unfinished Reformation.
How to Use This Book
This book will help church leaders write or revise a strong, biblical statement of faith. But the book is also useful more broadly, because it encourages fruitful discussion about the key differences and similarities between Protestants and Catholics. “If you are a Protestant with a Catholic in your life, or vice versa, you need this book,” says Bryan Litfin, Professor of Theology at Moody Bible Institute.