God Has Spoken: A History of Christian Theology by Gerald Bray
How has the inception of Christianity in the ancient and modern world changed the lives of its inhabitants? Gerald Bray seeks to answer this question in his new book, God Has Spoken: A History of Christian Theology. This weighty tome begins with the parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity, the development of Christian theology as providing an answer to the modus operandi of the church apart from the obsessive nature of those interested in the law. Bray comments early on that, “The church also had to explain how Jesus Christ was related to the Jewish God. This meant that biblical monotheism had to be interpreted in a way that could accommodate the divinity of Christ” (35). As such, the attributes of God were often communicated through the life and work of Jesus, his ministry, his law abiding, and his death.
Part of the richness of Bray’s writing is his deft grappling with early concepts of theology such as monotheism. Bray writes, “Most ancient peoples, on the other hand, had no trouble in depicting their gods in personal terms. The problem was that, in their case, personhood was a sign of relativity and imperfection” (77). The personal nature of God was such that a reciprocal relationship was possible, one which was first characterized by the condescending acts of God.
His goodness and compassion was seen from the beginning, starting in giving to humanity a good creation, rescuing his people from Egypt, and bringing them into a land of plenty. Bray also contends that early Jews and Christians held God to be eternal and sovereign. Nothing was out of his hand nor was he surprised by any human activity. Yet, there was a also a difference in the way the Judeo-Christian heritage looked at the body and the surrounding culture, for many Platonist and Gnostic thinkers derided the body as evil and yet praised the non-material elements (89).
Gerald also brings out a most interesting point in his chapter on Christian theological vocabulary. He writes, “…the first problem that the early Christians had to address was how to explain who the biblical God was without causing misunderstanding” (317). The Christian message was that God was one in three persons, which was a stumbling block to Jew and Greek, but also that their theology was rooted in their practices. Bray mentions that Stoics would go out of their way to distance themselves from the commoners, a radically opposite to the gospel believing Christians of the early church. Further, the early Christians were full of people who defied the traditional notions of the privileged. Therefore, the early Christians were constantly engaging the process of translating their faith to others from different worldviews and backgrounds.
With a sound background in understanding church history, the early church fathers, and Christian theology as it sprang up after Jesus, God Has Spoken is sure to be a wealth of wisdom for those who read it.
Thanks to Crossway for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.