In recent years we have benefited from several ambitious projects to describe aspects of Christianity. On the one hand, we have the late Jaroslav Pelikan’s multi-volume series on the development of Christian doctrine, and on the other more recent hand, we have Diarmaid MacCulloch’s history of Christianity. In God Has Spoken: A History of Christian Theology, Gerald Bray exhibits both the doctrinal detail of Pelikan and the historical attention of MacCulloch, and produces a wonderful single volume work of historical theology. What makes this rather large book even more impressive is the style of writing, which aims to assist nonspecialists and researchers alike.
One of the creative features of this book is the use of a Trinitarian lens for observing the development of doctrine: the bulk of the chapters are arranged under the headings of the person and work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is not intended to be a watertight framework discretely linking each theological movement to a member of the Godhead, but rather as a conceptual tool to allow the warp and woof of Christian reflection to shape the narrative of the book. Therefore it has a very different approach to others which give the history of particular doctrines as more or less hermetically sealed entities (e.g., Gregg Allison’s Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine).
So, for instance, one might find discussions about the doctrine of the Word of God in various parts of Bray’s book, but in a single location in Allison’s. There are obviously strengths and weaknesses to both methods. The beauty of Bray’s approach is that the causes of doctrinal development are well preserved, whether theological ideas, political moves or cultural trends. This allows the drama of the doctrinal development space to breathe and gives the book a compelling narrative to follow. So, one could easily sit down after the Sunday roast and enjoy a good read.
A different way of reading also comes with a different way of researching, and Bray provides plenty of tools for the keen theological student. There is a detailed table of contents, two lists of chronology (for persons and events), various tables (e.g., a comparison of Greek, Latin, English and Slavonic vocabulary for important theological terms), insightful footnoting with helpful references to relevant subject material (with a dose of Bray’s good sense of humour), and a reasonably exhaustive index. I had need recently to research some ecclesiological developments between the 14th and 16th centuries and whilst there was no single chapter entitled ‘The Church,’ there were plenty of easy ways into good material on precisely what I was after.
Suffice to say that this book comes with my strongest recommendation. With characteristic erudition and lucidity, Bray achieves his aims of being accessible to a wide readership. It would be perfect for ministers who are eager for a manageable regime of continuing education, or theological students who are looking for an introductory reference book, or keen laypeople who are looking for an edifying book to read throughout the year. As with his companion book of biblical and systematic theology, God is Love, Gerald Bray has given the church a great gift in God Has Spoken.
Earngey, Mark. Review of Gerald Bray, God Has Spoken:A History of Christian Theology (Nottingham: Apollos, 2014). Churchman 129/1 (2015):82–83.
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