'None Greater – The Undomesticated Attributes of God' by Matthew Barrett – The Garrett Ashley Mullet Show
‘None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God’ by Matthew Barrett is an excellent survey of historically orthodox doctrine regarding the attributes of God.
I recently read this recommended book after reading another recommended book – a certain ‘Gentle and Lowly’ by Dane Ortlund which right now is enjoying popularity in the U.S. more broadly, as well as my extended circle of family and friends specifically.
If I can admit as much honestly, though it pains me to do so, I was deeply bothered by a number of claims and arguments made in Ortlund’s book, and yet couldn’t at first quite put my finger on why. But in striving to present Jesus as accessible and therefore comforting for suffering sinners, a lot of sentimental and even romantic language is employed by Ortlund that seems, at best, inappropriate and out of step, if not borderline irreverent and heretical.
The more I grappled with what specifically was bothering me about ‘Gentle and Lowly’, the more I realized I needed to figure out whether the problem was with the book or me – or both. This realization joined with some help from friends who suggested two of Matthew Barrett’s books – ‘None Greater’ and ‘Simply Trinity.’ And reading these two books by Barrett went a long way towards giving me language for what felt off about the portrayal of Jesus which reminded me more of a flannel-wearing handyman love interest from a Hallmark Channel movie than it reminded me of the Savior I’ve come to know through the Scriptures over the last 30-years.
Certainly, the question of whether Ortlund’s book is off-base or I am is not an either/or proposition. Both can be true at the same time.
Yet all the more rather than less, it must at least be recognized that what precisely we believe about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is of the utmost importance. We should take great care with it, and be both sober and vigilant.
Beyond this, I hold it to be a general rule that whenever someone suggests a radical change to the way we think about God, we should watch our step. Irrespective who it is recommending the revolutionary theology or Christology, since the two are one and the same, we do not want to be taken captive by vain and human philosophy, or swept up in sentimentalism or some form of the Jones’ effect.
In fact, we are explicitly warned not to let ourselves be so captivated in the Bible. But to not be so taken, we have to imitate the example of the noble Jews of Berea who are praised in the book of Acts. Thus we search the Scriptures daily to see whether the things being claimed to us are so. And what proves true of the claims made according to a careful reading of the Biblical text, we must allow ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds in Christ Jesus according to because we are not alright otherwise. Yet at the same time, what proves untrue we must reject and stubbornly guard our hearts against because we do not want to worsen our mental, emotional, and spiritual condition by admonitions and corrections which take us further off-course.
All considered, the point at the end of the day is not to either agree or disagree with this or that contemporary author – either Barrett or Ortlund, or anyone else. Instead, the objective is to agree with God. And this is because God is always right.
Nevertheless, I am glad after a fashion for having been provoked by Ortlund’s book. What resulted was a search of the Scriptures, Church History, and Theology with more intentionality. And that included reading ‘None Greater’ here by Matthew Barrett to shore up some significant gaps in my own understanding of what is at stake.
‘None Greater’ treats chapter by chapter God’s Incomprehensibility, Perfection, Aseity, Simplicity, Immutability, Impassibility, Eternality, Omnipresence, Omnipotence, Omniscience, Omnisapience, Righteousness, Goodness, Love, Jealousy, and Glory.
With some embarrassment, I’ll confess I had never heard of some of these terms, but would have had to look them up if Barrett had not dutifully defined them. But that is to say also, for several of these attributes, even those I had some cursory awareness of, I have never really undertaken to meditate on the broader implications of God’s ‘Godness’ in light of His specific and unique attributes.
Barrett does a fine job, so far as I can tell, of succinctly outlining what these traits of God are, why they are necessary to believe in, and how they have been and are still being challenged on several points. But Barrett does more. He explains also how the challenges to sound doctrine regarding the nature, character, and essence of God have been responded to with councils, robust discussion, and creeds throughout Church History. And this is both encouraging and helpful, as I see it, because we get hereby some idea of how to handle contemporary challenges to sound doctrine in our day.
Particularly where Barrett is working with theological innovations in modern times, most notably by German theologian Jurgen Moltmann and his admirers, we do well to mark what is known as Social Trinitarianism, and to avoid it like the plague. It could more rightly be called Socialist Trinitarianism if you really look at what’s driving it and what ends it’s being used to pursue.
So also liberation theology would, at its terminus, have us all trying to redistribute God’s power amongst ourselves in a Marxist way. We would redefine God to remake Him in our image, after our likeness, then casting Him even within the Church as being the oppressor and us as the oppressed otherwise. And thus we would enlist God in all the schemes of modernism, liberalism, progressivism, and socialism, and therefore our downfall – all by allowing ourselves to believe about God opposite the historically orthodox creeds.
Yet I, for one, am not comforted by a God of the imagination who is comprehensible, imperfect, dependent on us, made of parts, changeable, emotionally volatile, merely historical, and more loving than either righteous or holy – as if that were possible.
In sum, even a brief survey of the attributes of God discussed in ‘None Greater’ proves to me that I still have a great deal more study, meditation, and clarification to pursue in comprehending as much as God gives us the ability to concerning Himself.
Admittedly, there is a lot here in ‘None Greater’ which I didn’t even realize I was unaware of. But even now that I am aware of what I was wholly ignorant about before, there is still the daunting challenge of pressing on to apprehend what can be.
Yet this is a happy thing, as I reckon. It not only humbles me; it also reminds me that an inseparable part of the answer Christ gives, when someone asks him in the gospels what the Greatest Commandment is, means loving the Lord my God with all my mind, no less or more than loving Him with all my heart, soul, and strength. And this is one of the ways I can love Him fully with my mind, to study Him diligently.
In studying, I believe we will find that the holy and righteous God who cannot be tamed is far more comforting in His love for us than many of us have supposed.
10 freshly printed copies of ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: A Refutation of Liberalism’ by Groen Van Prinsterer just arrived in the mail at my house yesterday.
This is the first time this important work by Groen has been available in English, and the translation was recently commissioned by my friends at RefCon Press, an imprint of The Reformed Conservative; check out thereformedconservative.org for more information.
The first ten listeners to contact me with a commitment to reading and reviewing this book, or else making a donation to The Reformed Conservative, will receive a free copy of the book as a thank you.
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