This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2010 vol. 167 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant PerspectivesBaker Academic, Grand Rapids May 1, 2008
The essays in this book were delivered as lectures at the eleventh Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference sponsored by Rutherford House in the summer of 2005. These evangelical scholars discuss a variety of issues, demonstrating that “such consensus as may once have existed on the doctrine of God has now given way to major differences of opinion on some very important topics. It is my fervent hope,” McCormack writes, “that evangelicals will one day be able to build a new consensus on the doctrine of God. But that will require patience, mutual respect, careful exegetical and historical spadework, and rigorous theological argumentation. If the essays in this volume accomplish nothing more than to kick-start a conversation which leads to such a new consensus, then they will have amply served their purpose” (p. 10).
The sermon by David F. Wright, emeritus professor of patristic and Reformed Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, “The Lamb That Was Slain,” opened the conference and this volume. Wright argues for the uniqueness of Christianity based on the Incarnation, particularly the permanence of the marks of the sacrificial death of Jesus. He concludes, “The Son of God, when faith is swallowed up in sight, is permanently ‘the Lamb looking as if it had been slain’ precisely in order that we shall be reminded visibly at what price we have been made whole. Whatever the wholeness that healing may mean from person to person, we will forever behold the stripes by which we have been made new in Christ” (p. 18).
Although each of the essays that follow deserves commendation, several are particularly worthy. Pierre Berthoud, professor of Old Testament, Faculté de Théologie Réformée, Aix en Provence, France, examines “The Compassion of God” as expressed in the story in “Exodus 34:5–9 in the Light of Exodus 32–34.” He concludes that the riches of God’s compassion, as seen in His forgiveness of the rebellious Israelites and then revealed more fully and clearly in the one who “came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14 NIV),” differentiates the triune God from Islam and Buddhism (p. 166).
Bruce L. McCormack, Frederick and Margaret L. Weyerhaeuser professor of systematic theology, Princeton Seminary, examines open theism through the lens of Karl Barth in “The Actuality of God: Karl Barth in Conversation with Open Theism.” His essay presents a helpful history of the development of open theism, an insightful evaluation of the arguments offered for the position, and a devastating critique of the open view of God. Then, perhaps surprisingly, McCormack argues that open and classical theists have a common problem, namely, an inadequate Christology, and he offers Barth as a corrective. McCormack concludes, “There can be no winner in the debate between classical theists and open theists on the basis of the Old Testament. No progress can be made until each side begins to take Christology more seriously. . . . It is time for evangelicals to take more seriously their affirmation of the deity of Jesus Christ and begin to think about God on a thoroughly Christological basis” (p. 242).
In a final essay Donald Macleod, professor of systematic theology, the Free Church of Scotland College, Edinburgh, discusses “The Doctrine of God and Pastoral Care.” In this application of theology to pastoral ministry Macleod argues that divine revelation in the Scriptures is the basis of one’s knowledge of God. “From these,” he explains, “we derive our doctrine of God, and by this doctrine we shepherd his people. From this point of view, the pastor has no option but to be a teacher (Eph. 4:11), no option, indeed, but to be a theologian” (p. 245, italics his). Using the imagery of shepherding, he shows how the Good Shepherd cares for His people through the pastor. He argues that doctrine “addresses our minds. It makes logical demands of us. It exposes our fallacies and neuroses. It reasons us, with God’s blessing, into reverence, confidence, peace, contentment, and hope” (p. 260). But more significant than doctrine is “the peace of God that passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). He writes that the doctrine can “fight the thoughts and fears that torment us, but the peace of God can stand sentry at the door of our hearts and prevent those thoughts and fears from even entering. How much we need that! It is the most effective of all pastoral care, and it takes us back again to the immediacy of the divine shepherding: the direct personal touch of the Good Shepherd” (ibid.).
Evangelical theologians, ministers, students, and others interested in contemporary Protestant perspectives on the doctrine of God will find this an engaging and insightful book. It provides an excellent introduction to these important issues and makes a helpful contribution to the discussion.
—Glenn R. Kreider