Systematic Theology: An Introduction

Systematic Theology: An Introduction April 9, 2021

I’ve written here about several of the books in Crossway’s series “Short Studies in Systematic Theology.” Again, these books are excellent and worth your time. Now it seems that Crossway has also been developing a similar series for systematic theology, appropriately titled “Short Studies in Systematic Theology.” The newest part of this series is Gerald Bray’s solid little volume The Attributes of God: An Introduction.

Image: Crossway

This short book follows the traditional framework for discussing the attributes of God. After a short introductory chapter, Bray discusses the “essential” attributes of God. In the following chapter he covers the “relational” attributes of God. Or, to say it differently, Bray discusses the attributes of God which are internal to Himself (immutability, impassibility, aseity, etc) and the attributes of God which exist because of a relationship with someone outside of Himself (holiness, righteousness, goodness, etc). In the final chapter Bray argues that these attributes of God are critical for believers to understand and grapple with today–especially given how difficult some of the abstract theological terms seem to be, and isn’t it better just to leave this stuff to the eggheads in seminaries anyway?

“This attitude may be widespread, but it is irresponsible and dangerous. God’s attributes may be hard to fathom, but they matter greatly for our relationship to him. We live in a culture where anything ‘spiritual,’ transcendent, or metaphysical is at best marginalized, if not denied altogether. Ours is a material world, where every thought and action can be measured in finite terms and even programmed, thanks to the marvels of modern technology…
In such a vision, there is no logical place for God, and the religious view of life is excluded either explicitly or simply by being ignored and relegated to private opinion. No Christian can accept such an outlook. For us, the finite world is the creation of an infinite and eternal God who exists above and beyond it… The attributes of God bear witness to that transcendence, and it is because we believe in Him that we can consider the world as it truly is. We are material creatures designed to live in the present finite order, but we have a relationship with the God who has made it and who gives us the ability to rise above it in our own spiritual life and experience.” (103-104)

As I said, this book really is a solid one and worth having. As are all the other books I’ve read by Gerald Bray.

With that said, I do have questions about the value of the series as a whole. Granted, as of right now I’ve read exactly one text from the series. And from the looks of it, the others also appear to be solid and worthwhile. My hesitation is more about the nature of the series itself–is a short series on ‘systematic theology’ really needed? I get doing something like this on Biblical theology. Or even historical theology, if Crossway (or whoever) gets around to it. But unlike Biblical and historical theology, the field of systematic theology hasn’t been neglected for years. There are numerous systematic theologies out there (including several available for free online) that are theologically sound and accessibly written. What’s more, most of them lend themselves to ‘short studies’ in their inherent structure. You don’t need to read all of Grudem or Hodge or Horton or Frame or whoever to get from them the ‘attributes of God’ or the doctrine of the church or whatever. Granted, this way you don’t have to take up a giant chunk of shelf space if you only want to know about one or two topics you can certainly cherry-pick from the series. And I think (though I’ve not pulled the books off my shelf and confirmed) that this volume is a more compressed survey of the attributes of God than the several chapters most systematic theologies dedicate to God’s numerous aspects.

Still, I suspect the marketers are at work here as much as anything. Fortunately, at least based on what I’ve read so far, that has not hurt the quality of the books in the series. The Attributes of God is excellent and a good place to start reading about who God is.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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