Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant Perspectives
ed. Bruce L. McCormack. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008. 272 pages.
There has been considerable debate in recent years around questions that emerge from contemporary explorations of the doctrine of God. As Bruce McCormack points out in his preface to Engaging the Doctrine of God, if consensus ever existed within evangelical scholarship, it has been replaced by some significant differences of theological opinion. This volume attempts to provide some insight into the spectrum of views that have emerged around questions of the being and attributes of God.
In keeping with their origins as lectures presented at the 2005 Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, the eleven essays in this collection are decidedly within the Reformed tradition in their reading of scripture and their theological development. Readers looking for a wider theological perspective or dialogue will need to go elsewhere. That said, there is a genuine diversity of views within the book, though in general the tone is cautious and not especially provocative. Each essay grapples with some element of classical doctrine and, though the book does not offer a sustained argument on any one topic, the essays tend to cluster around issues that have emerged as a result of the recent open theism debate, especially questions of God’s sovereignty, immutability and divine simplicity.
The book is divided into four parts. Part one offers perspective on New Testament and early Christian origins of the doctrine of God with N.T. Wright and D.A. Carson providing critical essays. Part two provides a historical perspective by looking at the work of John Calvin (Paul Helm) and Jonathan Edwards (Oliver Crisp). Part three explores a variety of theological perspectives ranging from God’s aseity or self-existence (John Webster) to a Barthian critique of open theism (B. McCormack). Part four offers some reflection from a practical theology perspective.
The most helpful essays are provided by those authors who attempt a more christological approach to the doctrine of God. N.T. Wright does this by looking at the question of God in the context of Jewish and pagan thought. For Wright, early Christians were early Christians because they understood that “the question of God [had] been given a decisive and fathomless answer” in the person of Jesus Christ through whom the world had been “put to rights.” Bruce McCormack also takes a christological approach in his advocacy of Barth’s work as providing a more adequate answer to the issues of timelessness and foreknowledge raised by the open theists. McCormack argues that proponents of both classical theism and open theism have similarly staked their positions on Old Testament concepts that give rise to “a metaphysical understanding of God’s being” rather than rooting them in the event through which God has chosen to make God’s self known. The event in which “God gives himself being—as Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit” is understood to be foundational in understanding how God is at work in the world and willing all things in a covenant of grace.
This is not a book for the casual reader. However, scholars interested in exploring the range of contemporary views within the Reformed tradition may find this a helpful addition to their libraries.