"The Lord Is Good" by Christopher R.J. Holmes. A Review

The Lord Is Good: Seeking the God of the Psalter
Christopher R.J. Holmes
IVP Academic
InterVarsity Press
PO Box 1400
Downers Grove, IL 60515
ISBN: 978-0-8308-4883-6; $27.00; January 2018

Friends I know who have been to Africa tell me that they often have heard in African churches a responsive invocation, where the leader declares one statement, and the congregation replies. “God is good * all the time! All the time * God is good!” What a beautiful way for God’s people to be reminded of the goodness of God no matter their circumstances. Yet what does it mean to say that God is good. The idea of goodness, and especially with reference to God, can mean different things for different people. Christopher R.J. Holmes, associate professor in systematic theology at the University of Otago in New Zealand, rigorously addresses the goodness of God in his new 224 page softback, “The Lord Is Good: Seeking the God of the Psalter”. This is a new installment in IVP Academic’s “Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture” series.  In a dense and methodological style, the author seeks to “think theocentrically, to present some of the gains accrued to the doctrine of God when it prioritizes goodness and distinguishes it in relationship to God’s love” (2-3). Yet rather than staging a display of abstractions and heady generalizations, Holmes leads his readers in a “disciplined, prayerful, scripturally concentrated analysis of God” (3). But be clear, this volume is not for the faint of heart.

The author grounds his work in Scripture, specifically the Psalms; but they are more the presenters and hosts. Most of Holmes’ discussion revolves around three interlocutors, and what they say about the goodness of God as they look at various verses in the psalter. Much attention is given to observations of both Augustine and Karl Barth. But the main conversation partner is Thomas Aquinas. The volume is mildly concerned with Biblical Theology, but heavily weighted toward both Systematic and Historical Theology; and if I may possibly create a new category, Meditative Theology. Though the book is dense and requires slow reading, the reflective aspect of theology permeates the whole; “Theology assumes, I think, devotion, and it encourages a renewed morality, for God’s goodness is a spiritual and moral good that must be experienced before the theology is truly understood” (7).

“The Lord Is Good” works through several foci. The subjects covered are the simplicity of God; what it means that God is good; the Trinitarian aspect of that goodness; how God does good in creation and providence; goodness and evil; God’s good Law; Jesus Christ as the enfleshment of that goodness; and perfection. Though the subject matter moves meticulously, nevertheless the material is for the reader’s “refreshment in the one who always is supremely good” (181). I almost never carry my reading over into my prayer journal, but as I read the volume I did find myself quoting, and contemplating on, several observations Holmes made. I think the author’s intention hit its mark, at least for me.

One of the major themes that comes to the surface multiple times between these soft covers, is that God is good without us, and yet God desires us for good. We do not add to God, but he adds immeasurably to us; “Properly speaking, God does not desire us because God has need of us. God’s love is good because God seeks and desires us for his own sake, because God knows that there is nothing better for us than himself” (43).  More examples could be given, but I would encourage the reader of this review to allow those two sentences to sink in slowly, and observe how contemplative awe begins to well up in one’s devotions and heart!

“The Lord Is Good” is a delightful example of how theology can lead to wonderment! This volume should be added to classes on Systematic Theology in seminaries. And I also believe pastors and ministers, for the sake of their own vitality, ought to obtain a copy and mull it over. I gladly recommend the book!

Thanks to IVP Academic for providing, upon my request, the free copy of the book used for this review. The assessments are mine given without restrictions or requirements (as per Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255).

A Copy of the book may be purchased here: "The Lord Is Good"


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