Interview with Gerald Bray on his new book, God is Love
Interview by Matthew Claridge–
Dr. Bray was gracious enough to agree to answer a few question about his upcoming book, God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology. It’s slated to hit the shelves March 31, 2012. Gerald Bray (M.Litt., D.Litt., University of Paris-Sorbonne) taught full-time at Beeson Divinity School in the areas of church history, historical theology, and Latin from 1993 to 2006. In 2006, he was named research professor, and is currently engaged in writing and speaking on a variety of theological issues. A prolific author, Bray has published many scholarly articles and books, including The Doctrine of God in the Contours of Christian Theology series (of which he is also the general editor) and Biblical Interpretation: Past and Present. He served as editor for The Anglican Canons 1529–1947 and Tudor Church Reform, which contains the Henrician Canons of 1535 and the Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum, and for three volumes in the Ancient Christian Commentary Series. His most recent book, Translating the Bible, was published by the Latimer Trust in July 2010. Bray is a minister in the Church of England.
In Reformed circles,“God’s Glory” is typically the controlling metaphor or attribute in theological formulation. Why have you chosen to build your theology around the concept of “God’s Love”?
I have chosen this theme first, because it is what the Bible teaches (1 John 4:16) and secondly because it explains most clearly and succinctly what God’s revelation is all about. For some strange reason, the theme of divine love has been relatively ignored in recent systematic theology, and it needs to be brought back into the centre where it belongs.
The superscription of your book is: “a biblical and systematic theology.” How do you define these terms and envision their relationship?
Biblical means contained in or supported by the teaching of the Bible. Systematic means making coherent sense out of the Biblical data. Put the two together and you can say that it is meant to be a guide to what the Bible is all about.
How does your heritage as an Anglican inform the way you go about doing theology?
At their best, Anglicans are Bible people and they are Gospel people. They are also ecumenical, in the sense that they take the best from every Christian tradition and make it their own. We do not want to draw attention to ourselves as a peculiar branch of the Church, but proclaim what C. S. Lewis called ‘mere Christianity’ and John Stott called ‘basic Christianity’, the faith that we all hold in common. In our modern ecumenical and increasingly post-denominational world, it seems to me that this approach has a great deal to offer.
What are the liabilities (if any) and benefits of a “mere Christianity” approach to a systematic theology?
The main benefit is that it keeps central things central. If there is a liability, it may be that it is hard for ‘mere Christianity’ to concentrate on particular issues, especially when over-emphasis on them is liable to distort our understanding of the truth and split the Church. We tend to gloss over controversies, but sometimes they need to be addressed.
For whom would you say this systematic theology is designed? What adjustments have you made in its composition to reach your audience?
It is designed mainly for two groups of people. The first are those churchgoers in the Western world who want to know more about their faith but who are put off by technical theology. These people come to adult Sunday school classes, take part in midweek Bible studies and want a guide to the bigger picture of what it is all about. The second group consists of theological students and religion majors who are starting out and need a foundation they can understand. In the developing world particularly, there are many pastors who lack material they can use in preaching and teaching. This book aims to help fill that gap.
It is interesting that you begin your book with a chapter entitled “The Christian experience of God” rather than the customary discussion of theological prolegomena. Is there a reason for that?
Christian experience is something we all have and can relate to. Prolegomena is a word most people have to look up in a dictionary. Need I say more?
It is noticeable that you do not make reference to or cite any non-scriptural sources in the body of the text. What’s your reasoning behind this decision?
The book is a single volume and something has to give in order for it to be manageable. The Bible is a book that every reader will have close to hand and that will not go out of date. It is also the supreme source of Reformed beliefs. People who know nothing of systematic theology may be suspicious of arguments that seem to have little Biblical support, so it is important to affirm what Scripture teaches and not get too bogged down with what particular theologians say, however interesting or important they may be.
Unlike many systematic theologies, you offer extensive interaction with other religious faiths or belief systems. Why have you felt compelled to addresses these?
These things are not mentioned in most systematic theologies, perhaps because people think they do not matter very much. But in the modern world we come up against inter-faith dialogue all the time. A lot of Christians do not know why we are different from those who hold other beliefs, and are susceptible to the argument that ‘all roads lead to God’. This is not true, and that fact needs to be stated in a globalizing world context. The Church’s mission today must engage with other religions and belief systems that are competing for dominance almost everywhere, not least in traditionally Christian countries. Muslims are now people who live next door, and atheists or agnostics dominate the media. How can we ignore them?
You mention in the preface your plan to write a “companion volume” to your systematic theology. What is your scope and purpose for this anticipated work?
Yes. This will be a historical theology that will look at the way the Christian Church has developed over 2000 years, taking the writings of particular theologians and their impact into consideration to a degree that has not been possible in this first volume.