"God In Himself" by Steven J. Duby. A Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The role of natural theology does not always get a good rap among some Protestants and Reformed camps. But just the other day Steven J. Duby, associate professor of theology at Grand Canyon University, and author of “Divine Simplicity: A Dogmatic Account,” came out with a dense and demanding 352-page paperback that seeks to give the subject its due! “God in Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian Theology” makes bold to present a way “theologians today can appropriate Reformed orthodox insights on matters like the nature of theological knowledge, the viability of natural theology, and the theological use of metaphysics” (8). This weighty work, part of IVP Academic’s “Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture,” methodically and meticulously treks its way through theologians, esoterica and substantial loci of natural theology, metaphysics and the incarnation to bring together “a constructive account of the Christian practice of theologia taken in the strict sense of the word” (6). A perceptive public, as well as professionals, professors and pastors will find the volume insightful and cause for reflective pause.
The author dialogues with heavyweights like Bavinck, Barth, Van Til, Aquinas, Augustine, Jensen, Molnar and many others. He explicates their challenges and concerns, embraces their strengths, and lays out their positions as thoughtfully and fairly as he can, while responding to them just as thoughtfully and fairly. He draws out the many-sided details of the analogy of being, while maintaining the Creator-creature distinction. He looks at metaphysics and restores it to its rightful place, which is “the study of created being as such” and not necessarily including “God within its field of inquiry” (231). Duby also examines the role of theologia within the divine economy, natural theology, and the important place of the incarnation, specifically as it reveals God in himself.
When addressing Christology’s proper place, he unpacks Barth’s worries about natural theology, and his notion that God’s knowability can only be in Christ. Then the author carefully walks readers through his response, agreeing where he can, modifying what he must, and explaining from Scripture a better way forward. In this section he enlists and penetrates the Gospel-depths of 2 Corinthians 8:9, Philippians 2:6-11, Proverbs 8, and others passages, and concludes that since “the Father has created and sustained the world through his Son, the Son is (with the Father and Spirit) the source of humanity’s natural knowledge of God” (169). This doesn’t mean humankind can pull itself up into a knowledge of God by its own bootstraps, since “the world lacks the “affective” knowledge of God that involves delight in him” (148). Rather, there is a natural knowledge of God mediated through the Son in creation so that all are without excuse. But there is need for God’s more specific self-revelation, which is mediated through the Son before and after the incarnation. Following Aquinas, the author makes the case that Christ is the head, in both nature and grace! I deeply enjoyed the whole chapter, especially the point that “the Son is the one through whom the Father created the world and has given the human race a natural knowledge of God” and the “Son was also the mediator of the supernatural knowledge of God even prior to his incarnation” (176-7).
On of the major themes of the volume is the validity of natural knowledge. Whether Duby is addressing metaphysics or epistemology or Christology, this – in my estimation – is one of the chief importations of the book. “Natural knowledge of God, then, from a scriptural perspective is not something that humanity obtains of its own initiative or by following a pathway never opened or authorized by God. Instead, it is made available by God’s own purposeful self-revelation in order to render all persons aware of and accountable to their Creator” (67). The value of his insights on this subject alone are worth the price of the book. Therefore, “God in Himself” is an ideal addition to a pastor’s and professor’s library, as well as in seminary studies. It is scholarly, but it also draws out devotional applications. I highly recommend the work.
My thanks to IVP Academic for sending the book at my request. I’m also appreciative that they allowed me the liberty to come to my own conclusions. Therefore, the analysis herein is solely my own, liberally made and given.
The book can be purchased here: God In Himself
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