Nov 17, 2009

Recommended Reading: Doctrine of God

5 Min Read

All of Christian theology centers on the doctrine of the Triune God. There is no doctrine more important because every other doctrine makes sense only in relation to the doctrine of God. There is also no doctrine more easily misunderstood. Controversies swirled around the doctrine of God in the early church as Christians attempted to understand how Scripture could simultaneously teach that there is only one God while also teaching that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God. Christians also attempted to understand how God is related to space and time and whether He undergoes any kind of change. Controversies continue to this day as the church wrestles with the questions raised by proponents of process theology, panentheism, open theism, theistic mutualism and more.

I should note that in an earlier version of this blog post, I recommended a few books that I can no longer recommend in good conscience, and since I have since written a critique of the views of one of those authors, an explanation of the change is in order. In the early 1990s, I took most of my core theology classes at a dispensationalist seminary, which did not expose students to much historical theology. After two years, I transferred to Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. I took some theology classes there as well as some classes with Ronald Nash, whose book The Concept of God, was assigned reading. Unfortunately, I did not have the categories at the time to interact discerningly with his and other works on the doctrine of God. I graduated seminary in 1996 with too vague a doctrine of God. I was unaware of all of the issues, but I was also unaware that I was unaware. Because of my dispensationalist background, I spent most of the next several years trying to get a better grasp of biblical eschatology and the sacraments. I also spent a lot of time thinking through the doctrine of sola Scriptura. One of the first times that I recall seriously red flags being raised in my mind was while reading the first edition of Robert Reymond’s Systematic Theology. By that time, I was more familiar with the Nicene Creed, and Reymond’s explicit rejection of certain Nicene categories was disturbing. Robert Letham’s review of Reymond’s book made it clear to me that I needed to study these issues more deeply and I began reading. However, from 2005 to 2010, I devoted almost all of my time to laying down my thoughts on eschatology in my book From Age to Age. However, when asked to help with teaching at the new Reformation Bible College, other doctrines could no longer remain on the back burner, and I began to study the classical Christian doctrine of God in much greater depth than ever before. I quickly began to realize that I had carried some unhelpful theological baggage out of my seminary training. All of that to say that I deeply regret a few of the recommendations I made when this post was originally written in 2009.

Recent controversies within evangelical and Reformed circles regarding the attributes of God and the doctrine of the Trinity have made it abundantly clear that all Christians need to become as informed as possible about the doctrine of God.

The Attributes of God

1. All That is in God by James E. Dolezal 

I have written an extensive review of Dolezal’s book elsewhere, so I will not repeat everything I said here. I believe it may be the most helpful starting point for a better understanding of why it is so important to understand the classical Christian doctrine of God.

2. The Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock

Charnock’s work, published in 1682, remains one of the best resources on the attributes of God. He provides clear definitions as well as thorough biblical and theological defenses of the attributes.

The Doctrine of the Trinity

1. The Quest for the Trinity by Stephen R. Holmes

Holmes’s book is probably as concise an introduction to the historical and theological issues surrounding the doctrine of the Trinity available. It is a good place to begin one’s study.

Primary Sources

1. The Nicene Creed

I would urge all Christians to familiarize themselves, not only with the Nicene Creed (more properly the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed), but also its doctrinal and historical context.

2. The Five Theological Orations by Gregory of Nazianzus

Gregory of Nazianzus was one of the most significant figures related to the resolution of the fourth-century Trinitarian debates. His five theological orations were preached in the midst of the ongoing controversy with Neo-Arians.

3. The Trinity by Augustine

Augustine’s De Trinitate is arguably the most influential work on this subject in the Western church. It is a difficult work, but it is one that rewards careful reflection.

4. Summa Theologiae by Thomas Aquinas

Aquinas’s thoughts on the doctrine of God influenced everyone who wrote after him, including the first generations of Reformed theologians writing in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His reflections on the attributes of God are important.

5. Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin

Calvin’s thoughts on the knowledge of God are invaluable to our understanding of Christian theology.

6. Institutes of Elenctic Theology by Francis Turretin

Turretin’s work provides a fine example of developed Reformed scholasticism and how it addressed the doctrine of God. Volume One of his Institutes is a gold mine.

Authors I Can no Longer Recommend and Why

In a previous version of this post, I recommended John Frame’s The Doctrine of God and a book by Bruce Ware on the Trinity. I can no longer recommend Frame’s book because it has become evident that he has moved away from the classical Christian understanding of such doctrines as divine simplicity and immutability. I can no longer recommend Ware’s book because it has become evident that he has moved away from the classical Christian understanding of the Trinity through his teaching on the eternal subordination of the Son.

This article is part of the Recommended Reading collection.