God is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God
by Mark Jones (Crossway, 2017)
Many evangelical Christians seem to take their doctrine of God for granted. We regard the great debates about the Trinity, the attributes of God and the person of Christ, which so pre-occupied the early centuries of the Christianity, as ancient history and prefer to focus on “gospel issues.” That is a naïve response to the challenges of our contemporary church culture.
In 2012 the Roman Catholic newspaper columnist and cultural critic Ross Douthat wrote a critique of Christianity in America entitled Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. His guns were aimed, not only at the progressive wing of his own church, but also at some branches of evangelical Christianity. While we may respond by distancing ourselves from the prosperity gospel and “the god within”, the question remains, “how deep is our doctrine of God?”
It has been encouraging in recent years to see a revival of interest in the historic doctrines of God. Enthusiasm for these doctrines undergirds every other aspect of the Christian faith and life. This has been described as a revival of classical theism. Classical theism asserts the three-in-oneness of the triune God, as well as the attributes of the triune God.
These topics inevitably lead into the discussion of questions which may seem strange and unfamiliar today – even to reformed and evangelical believers. What are the peculiar relations of the three persons of the godhead? What do we mean when we say that they are one substance? What is divine simplicity? Is God’s love a passion? While these questions are viewed as obscure and irrelevant by many modern Christians, they have been the object of deep reflection by the fathers of the early Church and the great thinkers of the Middle Ages. The confessional consensus which emerged in response to them was foundational to the theology – and gospel preaching – of the Reformers.
We have been blessed by the work of those who have put pen to paper in recent years to explain the foundational significance of classical theism. Some have written at length and with an eye to technical detail. Others have written at a popular level to explain the classical doctrine of God with simplicity, clarity, and brevity. I have personally benefitted from the work of Matthew Barrett (None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God), Terry Johnston (The Identity and Attributes of God); and Scott Swain (The Trinity: An Introduction).
To this list I would add Mark Jones’ book: God is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God. The scope of this book covers the doctrine of the Trinity; as well as the attributes of God which he does not share with his creatures (sometimes called incommunicable attributes) such as simplicity, infinity, unchangeability and omnipotency; and the attributes which God shares to some degree with those whom he has created in his image (sometimes called communicable attributes) such as goodness, patience, mercy and wisdom.
Where others have discussed these topics at great length, Jones introduces them in chapters of less than ten pages. Within these pages he leads us through the passages of Scripture which are most relevant to the topic; introduces us to great Christians ancient and modern who have thought deeply about the implications of our view of God; and concludes with an application section which describes how the doctrine of God shapes our prayers, praise and preaching.
An example is the chapter on divine simplicity – a topic which many Christians find far from simple to comprehend. Jones discusses Paul’s summary of God’s plan of salvation in Romans 8:28, and concludes that God’s “goodness is also his power, so that he is powerfully good.” This has profound implications for how we are to view Christ’s work on the Cross. He quotes A. W. Tozer’s explanation how God displays his simplicity in his work of redemption. “All the attributes of God are on the sinner’s side. It isn’t that mercy is pleading for the sinner and justice is trying to beat him to death. All of God does all that God does.” How different from the caricature a loving Saviour contending with an angry Father! This is a wonderful demonstration of how the doctrine of God lays a strong foundation for faithful and accurate gospel proclamation.