A Book Review from Books At a Glance
By Ryan McGraw
The glory of the Triune God is the heart of the gospel. Yet many professing Christians know too little about the God whom to know is eternal life. The first evidence of a regenerate heart is that light bursts forth into what was once darkness. God is light and in him is no darkness at all. In his light we see light, and in coming to the light we become light in the Lord. If we would recover the Spirit’s power in the gospel and in our lives, then we need to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Terry Johnson’s study on the attributes of God enables us to do this more fully as we contemplate God’s majesty in the light of Scripture and with the help of some of the best authors in Christian history. This fine study engages our minds, wills, and affections, aiming to increase our knowledge of God and love for him.
The author’s approach to the attributes of God is biblically grounded, historically illustrated, and pastorally wise. As the dedication indicates, Johnson draws extensively from the writings of Stephen Charnock, George Swinnock, and William Gurnall. Though these authors loom large in every chapter of the book, the author demonstrates extensive reading in other Puritan and Reformed authors ranging from John Calvin, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, J. I. Packer, and a host of others. Dividing the divine attributes into communicable and incommunicable, he grounds his work in Scripture and the Trinity, followed by extensive expositions of attributes, such as power, holiness, justice, righteousness, goodness, and love. The combination of pastoral application aimed at the hearts of his readers, with extensive use of Scripture, and some of the best Puritan authors, marks this study as solid food for the soul.
While this reviewer commends this book very highly, a few minor details deserve noting. First, Johnson misquotes early Reformed authors as teaching that theology is the “science of living to God” (14). He does not cite any sources for this point because there are none to cite. Prior to the Enlightenment, Reformed theologians denied that theology was a science, opting for the idea that it was spiritual wisdom. Wisdom included science, but science was too narrow. Defining theology as “the doctrine of living to God” allowed such authors to maintain both the theoretical and practical components of theology in a single statement, admitting expansion into items such as living to God, through Christ, by the Spirit. Second, he divides the divine attributes into incommunicable and communicable without noting that many post-Reformation authors distinguished instead between absolute and relative attributes (49). Yet he appeals to the absolute/relative distinction in places (e.g. 286) without explaining it. Third, there are some minor factual errors, such as listing Edward Leigh as “a member of the Westminster Assembly” (149), which he was not. A fuller contextual study of his sources would remedy such issues and make an excellent book even clearer and more helpful.
The Identity and Attributes of God fills several vital needs in today’s church. We need a more robust view of the God whom we know and worship. We need to understand who he is in light of Scripture and apply these great truths to our hearts. We need to recover the devotional fire of older authors to set our hearts aflame for the glory of God. We need a Christ-focused view of the divine attributes in order to know and love God’s perfections and to live Spirit-filled lives. This book delivers all of these things and more. May the Spirit use this book to put the glory of God, which is the heart of the gospel, at the heart of our hearts.
Ryan M. McGraw
Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
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THE IDENTITY AND ATTRIBUTES OF GOD, by Terry L. Johnson