Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

Archive for the month “May, 2011”

The Function of Symbolic Actions in Jeremiah


The recorded prophecies of Jeremiah describe a troubled, yet passionate man, in a position between his people and Yahweh, called to proclaim the Lord’s message, a message which causes the people to reject him. Desperately desiring his people to believe the message he proclaimed, Jeremiah employed various ways of communicating his prophecies, attempting to persuade his people to repent from their prideful and idolatrous ways, lest they receive the punishment he prophecies. Repeated several times throughout his career are what are known as ‘prophetic actions’, in which the prophet dramatically acts out the prophecy (Jer. 13, 19, 32).

This essay analyses part of the debate surrounding the function of these prophecies, attempting to argue for Friebel’s proposed ‘Rhetorical Nonverbal Communication’ hermeneutical approach[1] as an appropriate understanding of these actions. Friebel’s approach is centered on the idea that these prophetic actions were intended to be seen as persuasive devices, used to further convince the prophet’s audience to believe the prophet. The essay will analyze this approach in light of other approaches, examples in the Old Testament, and the specific examples in Jeremiah, specifically chapter 13.

Function of Old Testament Prophetic Actions

Jeremiah was not unique in his prophetic actions, and “was in a long tradition which continued after his death,”[2] as other prophets, such as Isaiah and Ezekiel also performed prophetic actions. The functions of these actions, however, are as diverse as there are actors. Many commentators have attempted to place an over-arching paradigm to these prophetic actions,[3] but due to such diversity, no commentator has yet been successful. Friebel[4] details several of these paradigms, concluding that most fall short.

The first and most common of these is the “causal link”. According to Carroll, “These are not just actions which illustrate words with gestures but are part of the creation of the thing itself – they make things happen.”[5] In other words, the actions essentially cause the prophecy to come true, or “have an efficacy in their very happening; that is, they set in motion that future they portray.”[6] If the prophecy is already in being in some way, it is assumed that it is unavoidable.[7]

As Friebel highlights, this limits the prophecies to one sort of prophecy, that of foretelling.[8] Hence, this excludes prophetic actions that include references to the past and present. For example, in Jeremiah 13, there are references to the past, in that Israel once – like the loincloth – was in a very intimate position with Yahweh; and references to the present, in that Israel, having been removed from Yahweh and influenced by pagan customs, is now ruined and worthless. Thus, the ‘causal link’ paradigm fails to relate to all symbolic actions.

Stacey argues for the symbolic actions to be “best understood, not as introductions of future events, but as dramatic expressions of present ones,”[9] and “a theological reflection rather than a prediction.”[10] Or, as Stacey’s wife later argued,

They are not to be understood as mere visual aids – illustrations or ‘acted parables’ – intended to bring home to the prophet’s audience in a memorable way the significance of his message. Nor should they be seen (like instrumental magic) as bringing about the events they symbolize: they did not cause things to happen! Rather these things are dramatic presentations of the truth, an unveiling of what already exists in the divine intention.[11]

These actions do not cause the event, but express the reality of that event. Friebel argues that this approach neglects major aspects of the purpose of the action. Stacey’s paradigm overlooks the communicative and persuasive aspects of the action, of which Friebel argues is the primary purpose of the act.[12] As the causal link paradigm negates the past and present, this paradigm largely negates the future.

Jonah was commanded to prophesy destruction to Ninevah, yet this prophecy obviously left room for repentance, as the ‘great city’ repented and was not destroyed. Along with the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel which declared the future destruction of Israel, and of the prophecies (such as Jeremiah 13) which partly deal with the past and the present, it is obvious that no over-arching paradigm can be placed over the prophecies of the Old Testament. Friebel proposes what he labels ‘Rhetorical Nonverbal Communication’[13] as a hermeneutical approach to interpreting the prophetic actions. In this, he leaves room for differentiation, but focuses on a) their communicative aspects and b) their persuasive purposes. Rather than placing an over-arching paradigm on all the actions, his approach “views the prophetic sign-actions through a broader lens,”[14] and allows for the many aspects of these actions to be analyzed within their own contexts, with an appropriate focus on their persuasive nature.

Prophetic Actions in Jeremiah

Jeremiah employs prophetic actions regularly throughout his prophetic career. As has been discussed, the functions of these actions vary depending on the context. This essay shall now explore three examples of these actions, before turning its focus to an exploration of the function of the linen loincloth in Jeremiah 13. The first of these actions is found in chapter 16, where Yahweh forbids Jeremiah from marrying and having children, and from attending weddings and funerals. Gowan notes that some prophetic actions have incredible affects on the prophet and literally change their lives. Hosea’s prophetic action was to marry his unfaithful wife, and Isaiah went naked and barefoot for three years. In similar fashion, Jeremiah was commanded not to marry or have children.[15] Not to have a wife or children was considered a curse in the Ancient Near East, thus the commandment of celibacy “made his life a picture of the terrible fate that awaited the nation.”[16] Jeremiah was to experience the grief of losing a family, the grief that the whole nation would soon be experiencing.[17]

The second[18] symbolic action can be found in chapter 19, where we read of God commanding Jeremiah to 1) buy a potter’s earthenware jug[19], 2) take a crowd to “the valley of the son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, 3) proclaim the Lord’s words of disaster and judgment due to their idolatry, 4) smash the jug, and 5) repeat the Lord’s words of judgment. The purpose of this passage is fairly straight forward. The question, however, is to do with the function of the action.

Dearman notes that the potter’s workshop carries connotations of God’s sovereignty and his being the creator, readily able to remake and reform.[20] However, he merely classifies the act as a “parable in action.”[21] Thus, he essentially argues the act was purely educational in nature. Clements, perhaps more successfully, argues that the function of this act was “about seeking an opportunity to startle his audience with his message,”[22] thus closely aligning itself to Friebel’s proposed ‘Rhetorical Nonverbal Communication’. The act is persuasive and visually shocking – evidenced by the audience’s reaction.

The third can be found in chapter 32, and is the seemingly obscure act of purchasing land, despite Jeremiah’s claim that Judah will shortly be conquered. Clements notes Leviticus 25:25-31, in that, according to the Law, the next of kin has privileged rights of purchase. He argues, then, that Jeremiah must have been the nearest of kin.[23] Martin Wang, however, postulates the idea that “Hanamel was not a sympathizer of the prophet’s ministry, and might have been an enemy,”[24] and thus was testing Jeremiah – if Jeremiah truly believed what he was prophesying, the purchase would be a waste of money; if Jeremiah refused the right of purchase, he would be breaking the Law. Wang’s argument is based on a) the problems Jeremiah had had with his kinsmen from Anathoth and b) the fact that it is unlikely that, as a cousin, Jeremiah would be the next of kin.

However, no matter which interpretation is better, the symbolic act itself is still profound. Jeremiah purchased the land and used this act as a way to project hope. The exile into Babylon will surely come, but Yahweh will not abandon them completely, for they will return to somewhat normality after the exile. Furthermore, Jeremiah acted as redeemer in the purchase, or,

in other words, it was a redeeming action rather than a simple transaction concerning the land. In this prophetic symbolic action, Jeremiah not only dramatized the hope for the future by buying the piece of land at his home town in the present hope-less situation, but he also enacted the redeeming purpose of Yahweh by fulfilling the obligations of the ‘redeemer’.[25]

In this action, Jeremiah lives out Yahweh’s will. This is easily compared to Hosea’s symbolic action of forgiving his unfaithful wife. Again, this action has strong links with the Rhetorical Nonverbal Communication approach, being persuasive in nature, i.e. Jeremiah claiming he can truly sympathize with Yahweh.

Jeremiah’s first symbolic action is recorded in 13.1-11. Here we read of three commands, Jeremiah’s obedience to each of those commands and an explanation of these actions. Cohen reflects upon these three commands and three acts of obedience as an example of Jeremiah’s empowerment despite difficult circumstances.[26] Further, Dearman notes that the passage is written in an autobiographical style,[27] thus something of the character of Jeremiah himself is revealed, i.e. emphasizing Jeremiah’s call to prophecy and his obedience to Yahweh. This further adds to the persuasiveness of this action, as this is not merely something Jeremiah does, but is something he feels.

Biblically, clothing is commonly used to represent identity.[28] As Clements further notes, “the loincloth is the most private and personal of the garments a person wears,”[29] thus Jeremiah’s loincloth represents the intimate relationship Israel once had, and was intended to have, with Yahweh.[30] Evidently, relating Israel to a loincloth would have been shocking to some, and seeing that loincloth be destroyed would have undoubtedly been even more shocking. Southwood argues for this passage to be interpreted, less as prophesying an actual event to come, and more as a condemnation of Israel’s pride.[31] He concludes, “the symbolic action…threatens Judah with an invasion from Babylon as a consequence of her apostasy from Yahweh to whom she had formerly clung closely and safely.”[32] It is probable that Jeremiah’s intention with the prophetic action was to intentionally be controversial, in order to persuade the Israelites of their pride and idolatry. Therefore, as Friebel states,

The sign-acts were simply one of the prophetic means of communicating various kinds of messages, and that prophetic proclamation intentionally sought to persuade the receiving audiences through a whole variety of rhetorical strategies available to the prophets.[33]


There is no single paradigm that can be placed over all the prophetic of actions in Jeremiah, or in the Old Testament, that can fully explain the function of each action. As has been discussed, the function of each action can only be examined within their own context. The common link between them is that – just like the all the prophecies, acted or spoken – they were employed as persuasive devices. Jeremiah deeply desired his people to believe his prophecies, yet they continually rejected him. He used prophetic actions as an attempt to convince his audience that he was, in fact, a genuine prophet, who was desperate for them to head his warnings and repent of their idolatry and pride. Where one proposed paradigm excelled, it failed to be relatable to all prophecies. Friebel’s approach of describing prophetic actions as ‘Rhetorical Nonverbal Communication’ is the most appropriate approach, and allows for each prophecy to be understood within its own context. The function of Jeremiah’s prophetic actions were not to cause, or force, the prophecy, nor to merely reveal a truth, but to persuade his audience of his validity.


Carroll, Robert P. Jeremiah. London: SCM Press Ltd., 1986.

Chisholm-Jr., Robert B. Handbook on the Prophets. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

Clements, R. E. Jeremiah Interpretation, Edited by James L. Mays. Louisville, USA: John Knox Press, 1988.

Cohen, David J. “A Prophet in Motion: The Counterpoint of Speaking, Acting and Reflecting.” In On Eagles’ Wings: An Exploration of Strength in the Midst of Weakness, edited by David J. Cohen Michael Parsons. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2008.

Dearman, J. Andrew. Jeremiah, Lamentations The Niv Application Commentary Series, Edited by Terry Muck. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.

Fretheim, Terence E. Jeremiah. Georgia, USA: Smith & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2002.

Friebel, Kevin. “A Hermeneutical Paradigm for Interpreting Prophetic Sign-Actions.” Didaskalia Spring (2001): 25-45.

Gowan, Donald E. Theology of the Prophetic Books: The Death and Resurrection of Israel. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998.

Hooker, Morna D. The Signs of a Prophet: The Prophetic Actions of Jesus. London: SCM Press Ltd., 1997.

Southwood, Charles H. “The Spoiling of Jeremiah’s Girdle (Jer. Xiii 1-11).” Vetus Testamentum 29, no. 2 (1979): 231-237.

Stacey, W. D. Prophetic Drama in the Old Testament. London: Epworth Press, 1990.

Thompson, J. A. The Book of Jeremiah. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980.

Wang, Martin Chen-Chang, “Jeremiah’s Message of Hope in Prophetic Symbolic Action”, (accessed 07/04/2011).

[1] Ibid.

[2] J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980). 71.

[3] Such as Stacey. and Terence E. Fretheim, Jeremiah (Georgia, USA: Smith & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2002).

[4] Friebel.

[5] Robert P. Carroll, Jeremiah (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1986). 295.

[6] Fretheim. 204.

[7] Friebel. 29. If the prophecy has occurred in ‘miniature’, it is argued that it becomes inevitable, and, in fact, more powerful, impacting and efficacious then had the action not occurred.

[8] Ibid. 31.

[9] Stacey. 273-74.

[10] Ibid. 274.

[11] Morna D. Hooker, The Signs of a Prophet: The Prophetic Actions of Jesus (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1997). 4.

[12] Friebel. 34.

[13] By this, he simply means, when referring to prophetic actions, these actions should be understood as being persuasive and an effective form of communication.

[14] Friebel. 37.

[15] Donald E. Gowan, Theology of the Prophetic Books: The Death and Resurrection of Israel (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998). 109-110.

[16] Thompson. 403.

[17] R. E. Clements, Jeremiah, ed. James L. Mays, Interpretation (Louisville, USA: John Knox Press, 1988). 101.

[18] To clarify, this is not the second symbolic action of Jeremiah, rather it is the second symbolic action being analysed in this essay. This also holds for the other symbolic actions to be discussed.

[19] NRSV: “Go and buy a potter’s earthenware jug”; NIV: “Go and buy a clay jar from a potter.” The point of this jug/jar is that it can easily be smashed.

[20] J. Andrew Dearman, Jeremiah, Lamentations, ed. Terry Muck, The Niv Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002). 188.

[21] Ibid. 186.

[22] Clements. 119.

[23] Ibid. 194.

[24] Martin Chen-Chang Wang, “Jeremiah’s Message of Hope in Prophetic Symbolic Action”, (accessed 07/04/2011). 15.

[25] Ibid. 15.

[26] David J. Cohen, “A Prophet in Motion: The Counterpoint of Speaking, Acting and Reflecting,” in On Eagles’ Wings: An Exploration of Strength in the Midst of Weakness, ed. David J. Cohen Michael Parsons(Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2008). 23. Cohen states, “These actions…assume that the prophet is empowered enough to perform these tasks. In other words, this is an empowerment for ministry that emerges from a divine-human dialogue about a seemingly hopeless situation,” (p. 23).

[27] Dearman. 143.

[28] Ibid. 146. For example, Is. 61 speaks of believers rejoicing in the clothing of salvation; Gal. 3.27, Christians are clothed in Christ.

[29] Clements. 85.

[30] Cf. Robert B. Chisholm-Jr., Handbook on the Prophets (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002).

[31] Charles H. Southwood, “The Spoiling of Jeremiah’s Girdle (Jer. Xiii 1-11),” Vetus Testamentum 29, no. 2 (1979). 233. To clarify, Southwood doesn’t argue against the theory that the prophecy has to do with a future event, but that the prophecy is more focussed on Israel’s pride, the exile being an inevitable consequence.

[32] Ibid. 235.

[33] Friebel. 44-45.


The Doctrine of God


A reading of The Doctrine of God without its preface and introduction could invariably result with the reader feeling somewhat confused, as though the book was meant to be a systematic theology in itself. However, Bray says of the series, “the series offers a systematic presentation of most of the major doctrines in a way which complements the traditional textbooks but does not copy them,”[1]. Hence, his heavy emphasis on seemingly peculiar topics can only be made sense of in light of this book acting as a supplement to other systematic theologies, and presupposes a basic understanding of most theological doctrines. In light of this, The Doctrine of God, with a particular focus on Trinitarian theology, the rise of classical and contemporary theology and emphasis on Reformation theology is an excellent theological text book. This essay examines and reviews the book’s content and Bray’s theological position, with a critical eye to the theology presented, finishing with an analysis in light of other contemporary theologians.

The Doctrine of God

The book begins its doctrinal analysis by examining what it means to have knowledge of God, and know God personally. Bray argues that within his very nature, God is beyond human comprehension, and thus cannot be known without his self-revelation. Our knowledge of God is absolutely rooted in the fact that he has taken the initiative of revealing himself to us.

He further argues that Greek philosophical assumptions have had a large amount of influence of Christian theology, and vice versa. He focuses on Plato’s philosophy, which rejected the Christian tradition of examining God in mythological (or narratological) forms, and pushed for an objective analysis of the ‘Supreme Good’.[2] Christian theology arose out of Roman law and Greek philosophy, due to the need for a systematic theology of the complex doctrines within the New Testament.

In the second chapter, Bray argues that our knowledge of the nature of God can only be known as expressed through the Trinity, and explained through his acts. God is one in being, who surpasses everything in this world. He is completely indescribable and inconceivable, yet through his self-revelation we can have some understanding of his nature, which is primarily relational,[3] as expressed through the Trinity. There have been attempts to prove his existence, but inevitably, his nature cannot be proven in any way, as he is beyond human capacity. If, however, knowledge of God comes solely through his self-revelation, the question of who receives the revelation becomes apparent. Thus, the doctrine of predestination appears. The bible is evident that God is not responsible for our rejection of sin; “God’s plan is worked out by the persons of the Trinity, who have created the human race to share in personal freedom…freedom entails responsibility, which puts the blame for sin squarely on us, not on God.”[4]

Next, Bray expounds the doctrine of the Trinity, arguing that the Trinity is what differentiates Christianity from the other great monotheistic religions. Further, Christians argue a relationship with God is possible, an impossibility in Judaism and Islam. The early church held onto a strict monotheism, but monotheism “could not fully capture the experience of God which they had in Christ,”[5] thus the need to adopt monotheism to include the Son became evident. Origen, Arius, Hegel, Sabellius and Macedonius each attempted to explain the relationship between Jesus and the Father, and while Unitarianism and Binitarianism held some supporters, they had little influence, as neither seemed to promote a theology that incorporated all the necessary attributes of God, as presented through the New Testament, such as Matthew 28.19, 2 Cor. 13.14, Rom. 15.16, 2 Cor. 1.21-22, and especially within the Johannine texts such as John 1, 14-16, and Revelation, which all support the Trinity.[6]

Chapters four and five asses the historical progression of the Trinitarian doctrine, beginning with the Cappadocians, who argued that both Son and Spirit proceed directly out of the Father, affirming that the Father is unbegotten, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, with the Father naturally taking primacy. This stands in contrast to Augustine’s view, which placed the emphasis on the Holy Spirit, as the result of the love between the Father and the Son, the personification of holy love. Spirit and love became synonymous to him, after a study of John 4.24 and 1 John 4.16. He postulated the idea of a double procession of the Spirit, sparking the Filoque controversy.

Whereas classical formulations have often included one of the persons of the Trinity to have some form of superiority to the others – such as Origen’s stipulations that the Spirit came from the Son, who came from the Father, or the Cappadocian assertion that the Spirit and the Son emanated from the Father – the Reformers claimed that each person within the Godhead are equally God in their own individual natures. From this came the term, autotheos, meaning that “each of the persons is…God in his own right, and not merely divine by appointment.”[7] The Trinity as a whole was the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. According to Calvin, furthermore, the Father held priority, as being attributed to the beginning of action; the Son could only be understood in reference to the Father, attributed to the arrangement in this action; and the Spirit is attributed to the efficacy of this action.[8]

Bray concludes the book with an outline to constructing an evangelical theology for today. This theology must be a) rooted and grounded in living faith, with our understanding of evangelism influenced by our understanding of scripture, not vice versa; b) an interpretation of scripture as one whole theological unity, with no additions or removals depending on our preferences; c) challenging to society in light of the bible, rather than adopting the bible to suit society; d) God must be at the centre of any theological concern, with the basis being the Trinity. An understanding of time is also important, as God, who is above and beyond time as we know it, broke the barriers of time to reveal himself to us[9], in our understanding of time, in order that one day we can break this barrier ourselves as we break into God’s understanding of time.

After a thorough and comprehensive discussion on the doctrine of God, the book unfortunately seems to end somewhat abruptly. Chapters five and six are either lacking, or there is a chapter missing entirely. After a detailed account of the rise of classical trinitarianism, Bray’s account jumps to a discussion of reformation theology, with an exaggerated emphasis on Calvin. Bray greatly details Calvin’s understanding of the functions of the different persons, his refutations of procession theology, and even his understanding of the soul, yet there is no discussion of Luther’s understanding of any of this, nor of the Catholic understanding during that time. There is little to no discussion of the progression of scholasticism or of theology prevalent in the Middle Ages. Nor is there adequate discussion of the progression of theology since Calvin, albeit minor references to Karl Barth. Kaiser’s The Doctrine of God[10] includes such discussion, and is rather surprising that Bray seems to arbitrarily skip this, seeing that – according to Kaiser – Augustine was a particular influence during the Middle Ages. Kärkäinen also includes such discussion, as well as an exposition of Luther’s theology and of contemporary theology throughout the world.[11] Furthermore, Bray’s final chapter feels somewhat disjointed. It doesn’t sufficiently summarize the content of the book’s theology that could cause a need to outline the process of establishing a contemporary evangelical theology. Also his discussion of time seems unnecessary, nearly forced.[12]

Despite this, the content of this book is excellent and vastly resourced, and is helpful in understanding the vastly difficult topics of the Trinity and of predestination. As detailed through Grenz’s analysis of the Trinity, an understanding of the Trinity is essential when discussing any form of theological doctrine of God, who states that “the doctrine of the Trinity forms the foundation for the Christian conception of the essence of God.”[13] In light of this, Bray’s heavy emphasis on the Trinity is appreciated.

It is from an understanding of the triune nature of God that Bray draws out the relational implications, and the book – whilst remaining highly academic – is written in such a way that it centres on the love of God, and his desire to have a relationship with us. Amongst his discussion of God’s self-revelation, the incredible implications of such a theology have not been forgotten by Bray, who is constantly referring to God’s incredible grace, and highlights this in Christianity’s distinctiveness from other religions, found particularly in the Trinitarian and relational aspects of a doctrine of God. Furthermore, the book’s earlier chapters held to an obvious structure, but lost this sense of structure as it went on. However, this was not a bad thing, as it revealed Bray’s passion for the topic.


In conclusion, Bray has done a remarkable job of writing an academic theological text on the doctrine of God that is not a duplicate of other systematic theologies and has not lost the significance of what it means to actually have an understanding of who (and not what) God is. His appraisal of the rise of theology, in particular his heavy focus on the Trinity, is thorough and entirely appropriate for his purposes in writing the book. Perhaps a less of a focus on Reformation theology, and a greater explanation of theology between Augustine and the Reformation, and of theology since the Reformation, could have made the text wholly comprehensive. Despite this, Doctrine of God is an excellent, and perhaps necessary, resource for attaining a deeper understanding of who God really is.


Bray, Gerald. The Doctrine of God and the Work of Christ. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Callen, Barry L. Discerning the Divine: God in Christian Theology. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

Grenz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994.

Kaiser, Christopher B. The Doctrine of God. Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1982.

Kärkäinen. The Doctrine of God: A Global Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.

Wright, D. F. “Platonism.” In New Dictionary of Theology, edited by David F. Wright Sinclair B. Ferguson, 517-519. Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

Yarnell, Malcolm B. The Formation of Christian Doctrine. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2007.

[1] Ibid. 7.

[2] Wright further analyses Platonism in depth, detailing Plato’s belief that sense experience is fallible, and that ‘forms’ exist beyond the material world that are essentially copies of the Supreme Good. This Supreme Good imprinted perfection on chaotic matter, thus creating the material world. Concepts such as the soul are expressions of these forms, which cannot be experienced in a materialistic sense. Hence, God is only active in creation through intermediaries. Plotinus expanded this belief, detailing that from the Supreme Good emanate a hierarchy of forms, such as the soul, mind and intelligence. Anything below the One is lesser in perfection, and the material world we exist in is not necessarily evil, but a long way from the perfection that the Supreme Good holds. (D. F. Wright, “Platonism,” in New Dictionary of Theology, ed. David F. Wright Sinclair B. Ferguson(Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1988). 518).

[3] Callen states, “knowing God is necessarily a participation in God’s revelation, the essence of which is Jesus Christ,” (Barry L. Callen, Discerning the Divine: God in Christian Theology (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004). 95).

[4] Bray. 91-92. Yarnell notes that “freedom and slavery denote a state of locatable relationships: freedom in Christ is slavery to God; freedom from Christ is slavery to sin…true Christian freedom is Christian obedience,” (Malcolm B. Yarnell, The Formation of Christian Doctrine (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2007). 22).

[5] Bray. 125.

[6] Cf. Callen, pp. 172-191.

[7] Bray. 201.

[8] How this action works and what this action really is, is up to much debate, and again sparks the question of predestination. Bray argues that Calvin restored to solving this question of predestination by labelling his process of election as a paradox; all have the possibility of responding to grace, but God has already determined who respond positively. Furthermore, “Election is God’s choice of some people to share in his Trinitarian life by being adopted as sons (in the image of Christ) through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit,” (pp. 206-207). Thus, “the true heritage of the Reformation, and especially of Calvin, may therefore be defined as a theology of the divine persons, whose attributes express both their distinctiveness and their unity,” (p. 224).

[9] As Bray points out, the present essentially does not exist, at least in light of human comprehension, as the instant we understand the present, it’s already in the past. However, for God, time is eternally present. Also, “to conceive of [the present] is therefore to be aware of an eternal dimension which goes beyond the world of time; to want to dwell in it is a sign that human beings are made for eternity and will not be fulfilled until they attain to a knowledge and experience of it,” (pp. 232-33).

[10] Christopher B. Kaiser, The Doctrine of God (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1982).

[11] Kärkäinen, The Doctrine of God: A Global Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004).

[12] Furthermore, his discussion on the non-existence of the present seems slightly naive. Despite being a common contemporary philosophy, the idea that the present doesn’t exist in this material world doesn’t hold up. The reason for this is that if there is no present, there can be no future or past. The present must exist, if not simply to mark the distinction between the future and the past. Arguably, human beings are living in the eternal present, simply for the fact that it is impossible to live in the future, and impossible to live in the past. Thus, Bray’s discussion on God’s existence as the eternal present is enlightening in some aspects, but rather naive overall. Perhaps a better term for God’s existence is not eternally present, but presently eternal, or the fulfilment of the present – that time where past, present and future are not separate dimensions.

[13] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994). 71.

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