The Doctrine of God
By Gerald Bray
Downers Grove, IL
Reviewed by Thomas Halstead
10.2 (Fall 1999) : 281-282
This is the first in a series of books called the Contours of Christian Theology which purposes to offer a systematic presentation of most of the major doctrines. The goal is not to duplicate the many doctrinal books that have been written, but to complement them. This first book devotes most of its space to the personal, trinitarian subsistence of God, rather than His nature, because the organizers felt that other volumes in the series would cover more fully issues regarding His nature. One of the distinctives of this book is its emphasis on the Eastern Orthodox understanding of the Trinity. Bray notes three reasons for this emphasis: (1) Eastern Orthodox’s intrinsic importance, (2) its affinity with the evangelical outlook, and (3) its phenomenal rise in interest.
The work begins with a survey of the historical development of theology from the ancient Greek and Roman context. It is from these two main influences that the conservative and liberal traditions have emerged. Though these traditions do not possess the authority of the Bible, yet one cannot speak about God without acknowledging their contribution to theological understanding. Then the author addresses two main aspects of the theology of God, His nature and H is person. God is one and completely different and unique from His creation. Therefore His nature, which consists of the proofs for both His existence and His attributes, is indescribable because “His nature surpasses anything of which we have direct experience” (53).
It was in the OT that God clearly revealed Himself as one God, but the Christian church had to go beyond the oneness of God alone because of the “deeper revelation it had received in Jesus Christ” (151). They therefore developed a trinitarian understanding of God. It is this trinitarian belief that set Christianity apart from Judaism and Islam. However, tw o alternative to this doctrine emerged in history. One was Unitarianism, which is the absolute oneness of God, and the other was Binitarianism, a duality in which both the Father and the Son have their rightful place. Biblically though Christianity is trinitarian, and they needed to develop a framework “which would allow them to express their belief that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were equally God” (153). The other alternatives had focused the manifestation of the nature of God in one particular person of the Trinity, albeit, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It was the Protestant Reformers who fundamentally differed in their theology from anything that had gone on before, notwithstanding Augustine. They understood all the great doctrines of the faith—justification by faith, assurance of salvation, election—only against the background of a trinitarian theology. It is therefore different from Roman Catholic theology in several ways: (1) God’s essence is secondary; (2) the persons of the Trinity are totally equal; (3) knowledge of one of the persons means knowledge of the other two simultaneously; (4) being created in God’s image is not understood as being created either in the image of the Trinity or in the image of Christ; and (5) the persons of the Godhead possess distinctive attributes that they share with believers (199-211).
As the author concluded the book, he sought to construct a new theological confession of the Trinity that would stand both in the historical tradition, and at the same time respond to the needs of this age. With that he suggested the following elements: “1. It must at all times be rooted and grounded in living faith. 2. It must accept that the historical Scriptures are a theological unity, and interpret them accordingly. 3. It must challenge the modern world in the light of the Bible, not adapt the Bible to the thinking of the modern world. 4. It must put God at the centre of its concerns” (228-29).
Bray has done a commendable job in formulating a theological understanding of the personal, trinitarian existence of God. His discussion of the E astern Orthodox position is quite helpful, and his conclusions emphasize the authority and priority of the Scriptures. The work is worthy of the attention of anyone desiring to further his/her concept of the trinitarian doctrine.