Nothing Greater, Nothing Better: Theological Essays on the Love of God. Edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer


Pp. vi, 217 , Grand Rapids, MI , Eerdmans , 2001 , £13.99/$23€20 .

This book deals with a relatively neglected topic in theology: the love of God, the God who is love, but it is equally related to communion: the communion of love that is Trinity, the communion of love that is the people of Christ, communion that is the invisible and indivisible unity of love from God manifest between believers. The volume contains the papers presented at the sixth Edinburgh Dogmatics Christian conference held at Rutherford House in 1999, with an introduction by Vanhoozer and a postscript on ‘The Love of God: A Sermon on Hosea 11’, by Roy Clements (formerly Pastor, Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge). In the ‘Introduction: The Love of God – Its Place, Meaning, and Function in Systematic Theology’, Vanhoozer sets the scene by explaining the paradigmatic revolution as he sees it in the love of God as the doctrine of God, the question of attributes in a twentieth-century context (including socio-political and feminist considerations and the question of post-modernity, examining various models of love): ‘The purpose of this introductory essay is to explore the larger context and its significance for the properly dogmatic questions to be addressed in the rest of this volume’ (p. 23). Gary Badcock's ‘The Concept of Love: Divine and Human’, reassesses the distinction between agapé and eros as set out in Nygren's great work. ‘A Biblical Theology of the Love of God’, by Geoffrey Grogan examines the diversity of biblical evidence, focusing on the objects of God's love, presenting exegetical issues that theologians should not ignore. Lewis Ayres in ‘Augustine, Christology, and God as Love: An Introduction to the Homilies on 1 John’, grounds Augustine's understanding of the God of love in an incarnational Trinitarianism, as the ultimate act of God's love for humanity; an understanding of knowing-loving is essential here, we can know the love of God only as we come to participate in it. In ‘How Do We Define the Nature of God's Love?’, Trevor Hart attempts to explain the love of God, though initially examining the question of whether we can say anything about God, therefore he asserts that such human utterances can only be predicated upon the incarnation. In ‘Is Love the Essence of God?’ Alan J. Torrance likewise considers the analogical language of the Trinitarian incarnation in a theological exegesis of 1John 4:8, but also drawing on Athanasius' understanding of homoousion. Thus concludes what is the first part of the book on epistemological and ontological themes, which then leads into three specific questions/essays. Tony Lane in ‘The Wrath of God as an Aspect of the Love of God’, examines the question, ‘Can we think of God's wrath and God's love together?’, which includes a critique of the contemporary sentimental view of God's love characterised by an indiscriminate inclusivity; by comparison, he argues, wrath is part of God's love, true inclusivity includes a hatred of evil within the love of God (therefore hints of a Barthian principle here). Paul Helm in ‘Can God Love the World?’ examines the relation of the love of God to the world. Essentially this is, in terms of methodology, an exercise in natural theology: Helm's aim is a discursive exploration of what it means to say that God's love is equally distributed. David Fergusson in ‘Will the Love of God Finally Triumph?’, examines a third key question relating to the universal achievement of the love of God. He argues that those who affirm a double predestination and also those who adopt a universalist position are in effect removing the element of human freedom positing that God's love is infinitely patient and infinitely persuasive, sufficient to ensure all sinners turn.

Despite the, broadly speaking, Evangelical/Presbyterian/Baptist credentials of the contributors, this volume has an unassertive caution about it that, personally, appears to play down the importance of the sufferance of redemption: the Cross. However, this is an academically sound study, though also an academically safe volume, which, surprisingly, has no bibliography, a glaring omission. However, this notwithstanding, this is an excellent volume on a relatively neglected subject, though perhaps it is all important to remember that we do not study the love of God — indeed it is probably utterly impossible to fully comprehend such love — but are in fact, the object of God's love: light and love that we are beckoned into, drawn into despite our uncomprehending, which all philosophers and theologians would do well to remember.