God is Love is subtitled, “A Biblical and Systematic Theology.” Right out the gate I am going to state that I am not sure exactly why the author or publisher provided that subtitle. It actually locked me into expecting something that Bray’s book isn’t, and I am glad it isn’t. What it is is a mixture of the two theological disciplines. Bray shows how love is a biblical (canonical!) concept that we can view doctrines systematically through. It would probably be best to understand this book as a mixture rather than either/or… though it is more a systematic theology than true biblical theology.
On the back cover, Timothy George writes that the author “is one of our leading evangelical scholars and teachers.” I want to first state that God is Love is not just for evangelicals. No, I think all Christians can find a lot to appreciate about what Bray does here. Secondly, I think Bray is adequately called a teacher of the church. I was taught when reading this book. And that teaching was both scholarly, theological, as well as doxological (worship inspiring). In other words, it was the perfect blend of deeper theological concepts written in a devotional manner.
So let’s get into the substance of Bray’s work…
This is not a true “biblical theology,” hence my rejection of its usefulness as description. God is Love is essentially a systematic theology. But unlike many scholarly works by theologians, Bray starts by writing that he writes to “reach those who would not normally find systematic theology appealing or even comprehensible” (p.12). I would say Bray accomplishes this mission well. Highly readable and accessible.
Throughout the rest of God is Love, Bray explores how the apostle John’s statement that “God is love” (1 John 4:15) impacts a variety of doctrines. For example, how does one do theology? Bray writes,
“The primary purpose of theology is to teach us what should be common to the faith of every believer. The love of God reaches out to each of us individually, and no one person’s experience will be exactly the same as another’s. But we all have a great deal in common because we know and love the same God. Theology does not focus on us and our feelings but on God and the way he has revealed himself to us.” (p.81)
Bray also offers helpful thoughts that require careful reflection on how God’s love shapes human relationships. I especially appreciated his sections on racial and ethnic equality along with how we can better understand human communities (civilization?) and government.
Part Four was the most helpful for me. I sensed that Bray was shepherding me as I read on the subject of “The Rejection of God’s Love.” Bray writes as a teacher of the church as he addresses how angels rebelled against God, how to understand the problem of evil (Bray wisely acknowledges that this has not been fully answered and that it is somewhat of a mystery), and the power (and powerlessness) of Satan and demons.
Though Bray writes as a non-charismatic, his treatment on speaking in tongues and abuses of modern-day prophecy are spot on. In fact, he is clearly not a hard line Cessationist!
My one constructive criticism of God is Love would be regarding the absence of any focused attention on the kingdom of God, either systematically or canonically (biblically). For such a prevalent subject in the ministry of Jesus and the apostle’s, one would think that it would be a prominent concept fleshed out in the sections covering God’s Covenant People, the earthly ministry of Jesus, and the Consummation of God’s Love. It isn’t that Bray ignores the kingdom, but considering that we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son that is loved (Col. 1:13), shouldn’t it receive more focused treatment? IGould like to have seen it have a more central treatment.
But make no mistake, you should own Bray’s God is Love! Rich, comprehensive, accessible, and well written… a blessing for the church.
I wasn’t familiar with Bray until March when I saw him speak at the annual SW ETS meeting on the history of Biblical Theology. I was impressed, but maybe it was just the British accent and wit. 🙂 I’d like to read this at some point.