Volume 39 - Issue 1

A Biblical Theologian Reviews Gerald Bray’s Systematic Theology

By Thomas R. Schreiner


I would like to consider several elements in reviewing Bray’s work. What kind of systematic theology is this and how did Bray go about the task? What insights are particularly helpful for scholars and pastors? Along the way, but particularly at the end, I will raise a few questions. . . .

* * * * * * *

Abstract: Gerald Bray has written in the evangelical and Reformed tradition a systematic and biblical theology that explicates the theme of God’s love. The book doesn’t interact with other scholars but represents Bray’s own understanding of the biblical text. Even though the book is titled A Biblical and Systematic Theology, it represents the latter more than the former. The book is characterized by a lucid exposition of the biblical text and many excellent pastoral applications. Bray’s work could have been improved by explaining more specifically how God’s holiness relates to his love, and there are a few other areas where clarification or correction is needed. Overall, however, the book is an outstanding contribution.

* * * * * * *

Let me begin by saying how much I profited from reading Gerald Bray’s Biblical and Systematic Theology.1 It was an edifying experience both theologically and spiritually. Bray’s work is learned, godly, evangelical, Reformed, and practical. Especially those of us in biblical studies should not forsake the reading of systematic theologies, for as the years pass, we actually forget what we once knew. Sometimes biblical scholars are guilty of spending so much time in the detailed exegesis of one or two biblical books that we fail to see the broader picture.

I would like to consider several elements in reviewing Bray’s work. What kind of systematic theology is this and how did Bray go about the task? What insights are particularly helpful for scholars and pastors? Along the way, but particularly at the end, I will raise a few questions. The questions are mainly quibbles, for I read this book with enthusiasm and joy and learned much from a veteran theologian; but in a massive book like this I naturally have a few disagreements.

Let’s think about the book as a whole. God Is Love is not a “light” treatment of its subject. Indeed, it is 768 pages of full text, with brief footnotes devoted almost exclusively to Scripture references. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised about the nature of the book. Given the book’s title and size, I expected that Bray would interact regularly with other theologians who have exercised influence throughout the history of the church. For instance, Michael Horton’s recent systematic theology carries on a regular dialogue with other theologians.2 Bray, however, takes an entirely different course. He mentions theologians only when it is absolutely necessary. Arius, for example, receives attention because of his christological deviations, but Bray entirely passes over Athanasius’s role in combatting Arius.

What I have written is a bit misleading because Bray informs us in the preface that he plans to write a companion volume in the future that interacts with other scholars and other views. He intended this volume to be an exposition of Scripture, accessible to ordinary Christians. Thus, it is likely that Bray will discuss some of the matters mentioned in this review in his forthcoming volume. In most cases, it isn’t helpful to criticize authors for what they don’t include in a book. Oftentimes reviewers complain that the author didn’t write the book that they would have written, which seems like a rather churlish criticism. Anyone who knows Gerald Bray’s work knows of his deep and massive learning, but Bray didn’t write this book to display his knowledge of theology and church history. Here we have the work of a wise veteran, one who is deeply schooled in church history and theology. His learning and knowledge are kept in reserve, but they shine through every page.

Next, let us consider the subtitle of the book: A Biblical and Systematic Theology. I have already noted that Bray does not interact in any detail with other theologians. What kind of biblical and systematic theology is it? The section and chapter titles indicate that the book is arranged via systematic categories. The categories are investigated creatively under the rubric of God’s love, but the arrangement of the book is familiar to those in systematics: the first section deals with theological prolegomena and Scripture; the second examines the doctrine of God and the Trinity; the third reflects on God the Creator and his creation of angels and humans; fourth, he considers the role of sin, though he includes interesting material not often found in other systematic theologies, with discussions on ethics, atheism, cults, and other religions; fifth, he plumbs the soteriology of the Scriptures; and sixth, he considers the gift of the Spirit, the Christian life, the church, and last things. It is quite evident that the ordering of topics fits with what is normally called systematic theology.

Even though the subtitle contains the words Biblical Theology, it isn’t biblical theology in the sense that it sets forth the storyline of Scripture. Bray doesn’t concentrate on the epochal nature of Scripture so that readers consider the progressive nature of biblical revelation.3 His work is informed by and rooted in biblical theology, but he doesn’t trace out (in most instances) biblical themes historically. Bray’s book is a biblical theology in the sense that it based on the theology taught in the Bible. He cites many texts but doesn’t often engage in extensive exegesis or explanation of biblical texts. Instead his work reflects both the Reformation and evangelical appropriation of the biblical witness. Put another way, Bray appeals to the clarity of the Scriptures to support his case.

What is the best way to characterize Bray’s work? John Frame’s notion that systematic theology consists of an application of the Scriptures to today’s world captures Bray’s agenda. The practical and pastoral nature of the work is striking. Bray often applies the text to today’s world and to Christians, and hence the book could have been titled: God Is Love: A Systematic, Biblical, and Pastoral Theology. Perhaps this is the place to comment on the words God Is Love in the title. Bray repeatedly emphasizes in the book the love of God. The heart of being a Christian, according to Bray, is an experience of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Love is intrinsic to the nature of the Trinity and characterizes the way the different persons relate to one another (p. 176). The work of redemption stems from God’s love: the Father sent the Son because of his love, the Son voluntarily and gladly gave himself for sinners because of his love, and the Spirit applies the work of redemption because of his love.

What can we say about a theology where God’s love takes center stage? Why did Bray choose this theme? Why not choose covenant or kingdom or something else? Bray doesn’t defend his choice of the love of God as the central theme of his systematic theology. Perhaps he will defend it in the forthcoming volume. Is he saying that every systematic theology should emphasize God’s love to the same extent he does? Is God’s love the central theme of the scriptures and the biblical storyline? Why didn’t he choose another theme, like the glory of God or God’s holiness? Incidentally, it is entirely legitimate to have a systematic theology that focuses on the love of God. It is really a brilliant choice, as long as one doesn’t say that this is the only way one should write a systematic theology. In other words, systematic theology can be approached from a number of different perspectives. The focus on a particular theme helps us see the message of the Bible from a new and illuminating vantage point, enriching our understanding of biblical revelation. The content of the Scriptures can never be exhaustively mined, and so there is no one “right” approach. Hence, it is entirely fitting to have a systematic theology written with an emphasis on God’s love, for it ties readers to one of the most important themes in the Bible. Furthermore, it seems especially apropos for a Reformed Christian like Bray, who believes God is sovereign in all things, to emphasize the love of God, for some mistakenly conclude that those who are Reformed privilege God’s power over his love.

The practical orientation of the book should be highlighted. Bray has written this book for pastors and missionaries and Christians who want to know and love God. His work is filled with wise and orthodox theology, but what is striking is how he lingers over truths and applies them to the hearts of his readers. This feature of the book struck me from the outset. Bray says, “Our faith in God is not just a philosophical belief in a supreme being; it is a life-changing experience of the one who has made us what we are” (p. 19). He says about evangelism, “[W]e have a duty to tell them [non-Christians] what has happened to us can and ought to happen to them too. The treasure we have received is not for hoarding but for sharing, and it is our duty to go out and find those whom God has called to be his sheep” (p. 19). “No one who receives the gospel can keep it to himself; he will immediately seek to communicate it to others and join in fellowship with those who share his convictions” (p. 517). A church that “ceases to preach the gospel . . . will wither and die” (p. 518). How many other systematic theologies exhort readers to be involved in evangelism? These quotations characterize the work as a whole. Bray often reflects on the implications of systematic theology for the life of the church and the individual Christian. Such an approach is refreshing and spiritually invigorating.

Bray addresses many other theological and practical issues, such as the kind of work fitting for Christians, the role of leisure, how believers should respond to the environment, the use of drugs, and how Christians should relate to disabled people. I don’t think I have ever read a theology that speaks to the matter of whether pastors should be matchmakers, but Bray speaks strongly against such a role, reminding us that singleness is a calling of God that should not be scorned (p. 313). Along the same lines, he warns readers more than once about a preoccupation with sports, which can be tantamount to idolatry. He rather amusingly says, “[I]t might even be argued that the pagans were better off, because their idols were a lot cheaper than ours!” (p. 650).

One of my favorite features of the work is the humility that pervades it. Sometimes systematic theologies, fairly or unfairly, get a bad rap. They try, as someone has said, to unscrew the inscrutable and to explain the unexplainable. In other words, they allegedly attempt to solve every conceivable problem. Bray does not go that route. He freely and often acknowledges that we don’t know the answer to all our questions: “theology reminds us that our minds are limited” (p. 82), and “Theology is therefore a call to intellectual humility” (p. 82). After asking why a self-sufficient and perfect God created the world for his glory and how is it that his good creatures could rebel against him, Bray responds, “We do not know the answers to such questions. To pretend that we do is to manipulate and misinterpret God’s word” (p. 89). We have to beware of forcing theology to fit a preconceived philosophy or rational way of thinking, so that we squeeze out paradox and anomalies (p. 82). “How time and eternity coexist is a mystery we cannot solve in our present state” (p. 731).

The Scriptures unequivocally and clearly teach not only the complete sovereignty of God but also the free will of man, according to Bray. The problem of evil, he says, “involves us in a mystery beyond our understanding” (p. 96). He remarks when discussing the problem of evil, “The ultimate reason for this is a mystery that is not revealed to us” (p. 145). Why good creatures rebelled against God is “a mystery that is insoluble in human terms” (p. 345). Why would God allow Satan to survive and to rule over the created world? Bray says, “we do not know why God has done this, and we do not understand why he allows evil to continue when it is against his revealed will for his creatures” (p. 353). What about natural disasters like tornadoes and tsunamis? “Christians do not accept that natural disasters are an arbitrary judgment from God or that they occur in spite of him, because we uphold his sovereignty in all things. We do not know why some people suffer from particular catastrophes while others are spared” (p. 272).

Bray asks, “Is there any way of knowing why he has chosen us and not others? The simple answer to this question is that we do not know” (p. 523). He emphasizes that no one deserves to be saved and that the salvation of any is due to God’s love since all deserve judgment. Like those who survive a plane crash, we should be humble and grateful before God (p. 527). Since salvation is due to God’s choice, we must not think we are better than others, nor should we ever give up on those who are far from God.

Bray has a learned study of the filioque (the Spirit proceeding also from the Son as he does from the Father) and the difference between Western and Eastern churches on this matter. As he reflects on the difference, which has not been resolved after all these centuries, he opines that this may “be a sign from God that our theologies, however reasonable they may seem to us, can never fully grasp the mystery of his [God’s] eternal and transcendent being” (p. 221).

Bray’s theology reflects not only deep humility but also an ecumenical character. I mean ecumenical in the best sense of the word. Bray writes as an Anglican and one of the virtues of evangelical Anglicanism is its emphasis on “mere Christianity.” When it comes to controversial issues, Bray doesn’t push any particular agenda. He claims that the scriptures aren’t very clear on church government and sees virtues in different arrangements. He presents various views of baptism and the Lord’s Supper but does not strongly endorse any of them. Bray’s theology would be an excellent text for Christians in every part of the world, and it is a good reminder that we must beware of being dogmatic and uncharitable on doctrines and practices that have long been disputed.

The worldwide applicability of Bray’s theology is evident in his excellent discussions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, atheism, and various cults. I will give the reader a little taste here. Bray says that the fundamental problem with Islam is christological, for it denies what Scripture teaches about Jesus Christ. Islam, he says, “is a religion of justice rather than of love, of fate rather than of forgiveness” (p. 433). Bray is unapologetic; Christianity is universally true and hence the exclusive truth about God for all people everywhere. He says, “When faced with the claims of other religions, the Christian response is to proclaim that everyone needs to have a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ” (p. 439).

The pastoral focus of God Is Love, commended above, is striking in four areas. First, Bray reflects on the power of the Bible, affirming its authority, infallibility, and inerrancy. He says, “[T]he divine inspiration of the Scriptures is seen in the power they exert in forming and feeding the people of God” (p. 53). Christians respond to the Bible “because in it they hear the voice of the Lord speaking to them” (p. 53).

Second, he often reflects on what it is like to live the Christian life. “[W]hat really matters is the presence of Christ in our lives” (p. 100). “There is no substitute for a humble and contrite heart” (p. 100). “The key to the Christian life is knowing the love of God at work in our hearts” (p. 98). The Christian life is a battle: we must “die to ourselves, and that is not so easy” (p. 621). In our lives “there is still a lot of cleaning up to do, and that takes time and patience” (p. 621). The paradox of the Christian life is that the more we know about God and his will for us, the more we are conscious of our failure to live up to it and of the resistance to his will which is a fundamental part of our experience as fallen human beings” (p. 636). Bray also emphasizes the importance of prayer. “There is no aspect of the Christian life more neglected today than prayer” (p. 623). “Prayer is the lifeline that connects us with Christ and gives meaning to our relationship with him” (p. 623), and “the closeness of our union with Christ can be measured by the quality of our prayer life” (p. 623).

Third, he has wise words for ministers and missionaries. “What people hear from preachers comes from their heart, and if their heart [i.e., the heart of preachers] is not right with the Lord, they will hear nothing” (p. 99). “It is perfectly possible for a Christian to live in obedience to the commands of God, only to find that his efforts to preach the gospel have borne little or no fruit. Some missionaries have spent their entire lives in countries where virtually no one has responded to their message” (pp. 619–20). “God will not judge us by our results but by our faithfulness, and that is our hope” (p. 620).

Fourth, he has some important warnings for academics. “It is . . . tempting for Christian scholars to crave academic respectability, even when this can be had only at a great cost to their faith” (p. 651). “The sin of pride haunts academia, and Christians must flee it if they want to grow closer to God, remembering that he has chosen what the world sees as foolish in order to shame the wise” (p. 652).

Perhaps I have overemphasized the pastoral nature of Bray’s theology, for the book is deeply and profoundly theological. There is a theological feast here for students and scholars. Bray’s reflections on the Trinity are particularly helpful. He argues, for instance, that the early church did not cave to Greek thought in the early christological controversies. The church fathers did not engage in speculative theology but attempted to describe what had happened in the Christ event (p. 119). They created a new and distinctive Christian vocabulary with the language (Greek) that was available to them (pp. 108–9). They did not capitulate to Greek philosophy but “challenged the reigning philosophical theories of the time and put forward a belief that in many ways was the exact opposite of them” (p. 110). Their understanding of the Trinity was not shaped by Greek philosophy but the message of the Scriptures (p. 109), and hence the Chalcedonian formula (that Jesus is fully God and fully man) faithfully represents the teaching of the Bible.

Bray’s commitment to evangelical orthodoxy is evident from the outset of the book. Some of those who claim to be Christians, he declaims, aren’t truly sheep but goats (p. 18). He remarks that many theologians aren’t truly Christian and “must be exposed and avoided” (p. 27). “The greatest enemies of the Christian faith are not those who openly reject it but those who claim to accept it while denying everything it stands for” (p. 362). “To fail to proclaim Christ as the only way, truth, and life is not only to deny him to our own hurt but also to deprive others of the opportunity to hear the Word of God” (p. 95). He says, “That is the world we live in, where the chief obstacle we face as Christians is the unwillingness of most people even to talk about God, let alone consider his claim on their lives” (p. 396). Liberal societies are squeezing Christianity out of the public square, and “evangelism” is “ruled out on the ground that it infringes on the rights of others to think whatever they like” (p. 404). He laments that in the West people have lost their jobs “for offering to pray for patients” or even “for giving even the slightest hint that they are Christians” (p. 405).

Bray is evangelical and Reformational in his theology. He regularly critiques Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy for failing to measure up to the scriptural word and for promoting teachings that are contrary to the gospel. Justification is ours through faith instead of human obedience. To be righteous biblically means that we are in a right relationship with God. Faith “is a knowledge and experience of Jesus that can come only when he reveals himself to us. It has always been possible to know about Jesus without encountering him personally. It is even possible to believe everything in the Gospels and yet not understand what they are all about. . . . True conversion comes only by meeting Jesus” (p. 638). Bray writes, “[J]ustifying faith is not to be equated with belief in the right things, as important as that is” (p. 640). Justification doesn’t mean that we have changed “in an objective sense” (p. 640). Justification includes forgiveness of sins, but it also means that we also enjoy Christ’s righteousness, which is imputed to us because of our union with him (pp. 640–41).

His description of conviction of sin is insightful and profoundly evangelical. Conviction of sin “is the knowledge that the presence of sin in our lives is unbearable and that there is no escape from it other than in and through Jesus Christ. As long as a person thinks that he has his faults under control and that he can deal with them as required, there is no conviction of sin, and therefore no deep work of the Holy Spirit in him” (p. 607).

I have two disagreements related to justification, and one is more direct and the other is tangential. First, Bray says that even if we keep the Mosaic law, we are still not justified since justification is by faith not via the law (p. 555). This is certainly a possible reading, but it is more likely that Paul teaches that if we could keep the law perfectly, we would be justified through the law.4 But since no one can keep the law and all fall short of the glory of God, justification is only through faith in Christ. Second, Bray suggests that church membership should be granted if someone affirms that God is one’s Father who created the world (p. 685). If I understood him rightly, that is the only doctrinal belief essential for church membership. But I would have thought that one should also affirm the gospel of Jesus Christ, that no one would be admitted as a member who did not affirm that they were trusting in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and the hope of eternal life. Such trust would manifest itself in baptism and repentance (Acts 2:38).

Let me comment briefly on some matters where I have some questions for Bray. He argues that God’s wrath is an expression of his love (p. 140). According to Bray, God hates us because he loves us, for he “cannot tolerate us in that condition” (p. 140). He suggests that God continues to sustain the existence of those who rebelled against him in hell because of his love for them and because they matter to him as creatures (pp. 353, 733). He also argues that a life sentence is milder than annihilation (p. 370) and that there is hope where there is life. First, attaching hope to those who are in hell seems strange since they have no hope for the future. Linking love with the judgment of those in hell is a step too far. The Scriptures don’t indicate that God loves those in hell but punishes them and hates them because of his justice and holiness.

Bray’s discussion of God’s holiness is rather brief (pp. 159–62), and he doesn’t linger on the theme. He calls upon readers to reflect often on God’s love, but I think it would have been helpful to spend more time in the book considering God’s holiness. We see the wrath of God in Noah’s flood (Gen 6:5–9:17), the deaths of Nadab and Abihu (Lev 10:1–2) and Uzzah (2 Sam 6:6–7) and Ananias (Acts 5:1–11), and in the final judgment scene in Rev 19. Let me be clear: Bray doesn’t deny such texts, but he focuses on God’s love, and it seems that God’s holiness isn’t as prominent. For instance, Bray says, “The fact that God the Father sent his Son to die for us shows us just how important we are to him. It is a sign of his love for us” (p. 542). Even though some would disagree with this statement, I think it is correct. The cross does demonstrate God’s love for us and indicates that we matter to God. Nevertheless, Bray doesn’t emphasize sufficiently God’s awesome holiness. At one point he speaks of God’s love as transcending his goodness (p. 70). Such an expression could suggest that love triumphs over justice, but in the cross the holiness of God was satisfied and the love of God was expressed (Rom 3:21–26). At the end of the day, I believe Bray agrees with my point, for elsewhere he says that God can’t just “forgive and forget,” for that would be “a denial of his nature” (p. 515).

Could God have saved us another way? Bray says yes since he is all-powerful (p. 541). Perhaps Bray is right, but I wonder if there was any other way for the love and holiness of God to be reconciled apart from the atoning death of the God-man Jesus Christ. I am not suggesting that there is a law above God, but that the death of God’s Son was the only way that God’s attributes of love and justice could be expressed in judgment and salvation.

Let me mention a few matters briefly where it would be helpful to hear Bray’s response. He claims that Jesus’ resurrection was not a reward for his obedience. Instead, he was resurrected because he was God (p. 189). But why is an either-or posited here? Don’t Phil 2:6–11 and Heb 1:8–9 clearly teach that Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation were a result of his obedience?

When it comes to Christology, it is striking that Bray gives scant attention to Jesus as the Son of Man. He limits his discussion to two pages and says that this title indicates that Jesus was a human being. On the one hand, this shows how systematic categories dominate Bray’s work, for Son of Man plays a major role in the Gospels but is virtually absent from Bray’s work. On the other hand, there are indications in both Daniel and the Gospels that the Son of Man is also a divine figure (Dan 7:9–14; Mark 2:10, 28; 14:62), and hence it seems too reductionistic to limit the title to Jesus’ humanity.

Speaking of Christology, Bray rightly rejects kenotic Christology (that Jesus divests himself of his divinity), but I was a bit unsure in his discussion (pp. 201–5) about his own solutions to some of the issues raised. Is he suggesting that Jesus did not exercise the prerogatives of deity, though these prerogatives were still his? He raises a provocative question about the meaning of John 17:5, asking how Jesus can be restored to the glory he once had if as the second person of the Trinity he has been reigning all along. He raises the question, but I am not sure in the course of his discussion what his answer is. In the middle of the discussion he appeals to mystery (p. 204), and so perhaps that is his answer. Along the same lines, I was confused when he speculates that one person of the Trinity could know something that the other persons don’t (p. 571), but how does that fit with God’s omniscience?

Bray has a learned discussion on the Son of God being begotten and the Spirit proceeding (John 14:16, 26; 15:26). The texts cited don’t refer to inter-trinitarian, pretemporal relations but to relations among the persons of the Godhead in history. Bray seems to assume that all orthodox Christians agree on the interpretation of such verses, but isn’t it possible to believe in the Trinity on other grounds without bringing in the language of the Son being begotten and the Spirit proceeding? Perhaps Bray’s answer is that God’s work in history corresponds with who God is “in his eternal self” (p. 219).

Bray says that the angel of the Lord in the OT can’t be God or a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus because we know God didn’t appear as a man before Christ and Jesus was not an angel (pp. 252–53, 256). But a number of texts indicate that we have a reference to God himself appearing to human beings before the coming of Christ (e.g., Gen 18:1, 10, 13, 22; 32:28–30; Judg 13:3, 18, 22). Was this the pre-incarnate Jesus? Was it the Father? It seems as if what Bray says elsewhere could very well apply here. We don’t know how this works (it is beyond our understanding), but the text indicates that God appeared to them.

If I understand Bray, he seems to argue that death and natural disasters would have taken place even if human beings hadn’t sinned (pp. 275, 385). But don’t Rom 8:18–25 and Gen 3 suggest that the created order fell when human beings sinned? And hence such natural disasters should be explained as a consequence of the fall.

Bray seems to reject all remarriage after divorce, but many interpreters, like me, believe that the scriptures teach that remarriage is permitted if the marriage dissolved because of sexual sin or desertion. Bray doesn’t interact exegetically with that interpretation, which is probably the most common evangelical view. I wondered why he believes the exception clause allows divorce for sexual infidelity but not remarriage. It seems that the exception clause most naturally relates to both divorce and remarriage and can’t be limited to the former (Matt 5:32; 19:9). It would help if Bray were to explain why the exception clause pertains to divorce but not to remarriage.

Bray also says that the sin of Adam and Eve was “fundamentally a rejection of God’s love for them” (p. 94). But wasn’t their fundamental sin pride? I take it that the desire to be like God wasn’t noble, contrary to Bray (p. 374), but betrayed a sin of independence and rebellion that was idolatrous.

Bray consistently affirms God’s sovereignty in the strongest possible terms, so I was puzzled when I read these words, “Did God know when he created Satan that he would turn out this way? This is a question impossible to answer” (p. 347). Bray goes on to say that it wasn’t God’s intention that Satan would rebel. In one sense that is certainly true, but certainly God knew even before he created Satan what he would do. Even classical Arminians affirm that truth, and so I didn’t know what to make of Bray’s statement, which implies that God might have been surprised by Satan’s rebellion, especially since it doesn’t fit with the rest of the book.

I can’t conclude my review with such questions. What a splendid and wonderful book! How nourishing theologically and spiritually! I believe this book will be read for many years to come, and I think Bray’s wish that the book be read in the church worldwide will become a reality. It is probably already happening. Thank you, Gerald Bray, for a lifetime of reverent and faithful scholarship!

Response to Tom Schreiner

Gerald Bray

I am very grateful to Dr Schreiner for his kind and generous words about God Is Love. It is not a perfect book, and much has had to be omitted. The companion volume, God Has Spoken, which is due to appear in October 2014, will deal with the secondary literature and go at least some way to filling the gap which he has noticed.

On the specific points which he raises, I would say only the following:

1. Love is not just a matter of what God does but of who God is. God tolerates the existence of evil beings because he is love, but of course he hates it—the two things are not mutually incompatible. We may perhaps compare it with the ‘hate the sin but love the sinner’ dictum which we often hear today.

2. Dr Schreiner seems to have a view of holiness that is influenced by legal and moral considerations. If these were applied consistently, none of us would (or could) be holy as God is holy. I do not myself think that this is an adequate view of holiness, but I recognise that holiness is a problem for the modern church and do not claim to have solved it.

3. On divorce and remarriage, I fully accept that the latter is authorised in cases of adultery but not otherwise. My main concern is with Christian teachers and leaders: they should leave their ministry if they divorce and then remarry without legitimate cause (that is, except in cases of adultery). This is not to condemn them but to protect them from the dangers of ministry and maintain the witness of the church.

4. I firmly believe in the sovereignty of God, but I cannot believe that God intended Satan to rebel against him when he created him. This is a paradox, I realise, and I do not claim to be able to resolve it. It is a mystery beyond our comprehension. What matters to us is that Satan has rebelled and enticed the human race into his rebellion. God has dealt with this situation not by destroying Satan outright but by sending his Son to die and rise again for us—another mystery but one on which our eternal salvation depends.

5. Dr Schreiner has misunderstood my remarks about church membership. What I said about belief in God as Father was only a starting point—something that most people today could probably affirm but which is not enough. Whether we could be justified by keeping the Mosaic law is one of those unanswerable questions. Perhaps, but as it is impossible, it hardly matters one way or the other.

6. I think that Dr Schreiner was right to pick me up on my overly-analytical remark about the resurrection of Jesus being due to his divinity and not to his human obedience. It is not an either-or but a both-and, as he points out.

I think that is most of what I have to say. Thanks again for the opportunity to say it.

[1] Gerald Bray, God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 768 pp.

[2] Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).

[3] There are exceptions here and there, but in the main Bray doesn’t unfold redemptive history in his discussions.

[4] See Thomas R. Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 41–71.

Thomas R. Schreiner

Tom Schreiner is James Buchanan Harrison professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

Other Articles in this Issue

Too often people think of the Reformation in terms of an abstract theological debate...

Abstract: Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism, edited by Christopher Hays and Christopher Ansberry, argues that evangelical scholars have failed to embrace historical criticism to the extent that they could and should...

Thomas Prince, editor of The Christian History—the first religious periodical in American history—could hardly have invented the Great Awakening, as Frank Lambert argues...

Theology is first and foremost about who God is and then about what he has done...

What is the task and focus of Christian theology? What are the distinctive contributions of biblical theology and systematic theology? In this issue of Themelios, a distinguished systematic theologian (Gerald Bray) and biblical theologian (Thomas Schreiner) address these and other questions...