Gerald Bray’s new systematic theology, God is Love, is a landmark achievement for many reasons.
First, Bray is an exceptional systematic theologian and church historian, and this fine book is the fruit of many decades of thinking and teaching. This book should replace Wayne Grudem’s work as the standard evangelical systematic theology. Secondly, it is the first evangelical Anglican systematic theology since Griffith Thomas in the 19th century. It is quietly Anglican in tone, focusing on what Bray calls “mere or basic Christianity” (though Bray’s Anglicanism is Reformed). He focuses on key and important doctrines. Bray’s tone is irenic in matters like baptism, church government, gifts of the Spirit, and the millennium, which divide evangelicals, but he can be wittily dismissive, and even brutal, of views that he believes are outside traditional Christian orthodoxy.
Thirdly, it is clearly, warmly, and elegantly written; it fun to read and the reader will not need to bother with long footnotes nor current academic debates – Bray has deliberately kept footnotes and current debates out of the book – so the book will not feel dated in a few years when academic discussions move onto different matters (however, Bray will tackle academic matters in a forthcoming companion volume). Despite, its lack of academic engagement, Bray shows his great learning on every page. The book itself is not loo long for a systematic theology; most sections are only a few pages long and can be read at one sitting.
Fourthly, it really is written with the average Christian reader in mind (not merely in the West, but in the majority world as well). It is written (like Scripture) for our learning and edification, so that we may live lives worthy of the God we worship. I have benefited from it and already strongly recommended it in church, and will continue to do.
Fifthly, it is biblical. While, inevitably, in a systematic theology, the reader will find things he will disagree within it, Bray justifies his positions by citing and interpreting Scripture. Bray strongly, and rightly, believes that the Bible is a unity, revealing the mind of God and eternal mysteries, and therefore capable of systematic exposition.
Sixthly, Bray has, freshly, framed the book around the key idea that “God is love.” So, Part 1 is on the “language of love,” (Scripture and our language about God), Part 2 is on “God’s love in himself” (the doctrines of God and the Trinity – the most difficult part of the book), Part 3 is on “God’s love for his creation” (creation and humanity), Part 4 on “the rejection of God’s love” (the fall and sin), Part 5 on “God so loved the world” (the work of Christ and salvation) and Part 6 on “the consummation of God’s love” (the church and eschatology).
The benefits of Bray’s approach are enormous. We live in an age when there is a great deal of confusion on the nature of love (we tend to equate love with sentimentality, uncontrollable feelings, and a pluralistic tolerance of all views). However, Bray shows how God’s love, in the Bible, is many-faceted, eternal and expressed in the elective, shepherd-like, self-giving love of God, and includes judgement, justice, protection, and correction. Further, Bray shows how God’s love is, tragically, rejected by those whom he created. Since many non-evangelicals accuse evangelicals of being strong on truth to the detriment of love, Bray rightly stresses that God’s love is at the heart of evangelical theology.
Seventhly, Bray includes topics that are not usually found in a systematic theology. Bray has sections on ecology, drugs, disabilities, work, leisure, sexuality, world religions and syncretism, deviant cults, atheism, and government and civic religion. This means that the book is not merely an “in house” debate between Christians; there is genuine biblical engagement with the real issues in our modern world. The book is worth getting merely for these sections.
For all these reasons, the book is truly worth buying. It will stimulate you to think God’s thoughts in Scripture after him, and be a sound guide in your Bible reading and Christian life.
Rev. Dr. Rohintan Mody, Bournemouth
GERALD BRAY, GOD IS LOVE: A BIBLICAL AND SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, WHEATON, CROSSWAY, 2012 ISBN: 978-1-4335-2269-7
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