When I was a child, in the Sunday School of the Baptist church I grew up in, we used to sing a song that went something like this: “What is God like? God is good…“, which I later worked out was a simplification of a catechism, outlining the attributes of God. Matthew Barrett’s book None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God is a readable but rich version of that song. Over twelve chapters, which work well alone or could be read as part of, say, a book club, Barrett helps us to gaze upon the infinite goodness and majesty of God.
For the initiated, this is a book introduces classical Reformed theism to lay readers. For the rest of us, this is a book (A bit like Mike Reeves’ The Good God does for the Trinity) that simply and clearly introduces us to what it means to say things about God. The chapter headings resonate with readability – instead of ‘Incomprehensibility’, chapter 1 is titled ‘Can We Know the Essence of God?’. Similarly, a question of great concern at the present time is ‘Does God Have Emotions?’, on which chapter 7 responds with a readable, accessible and pastoral account of the Impassability of God. So if, like some of my friends, you’ve wondered what on earth is meant by ‘aseity’ and ‘immutability’, then None Greater offers a handbook to the attributes of God that normal people can read.
I refer to normal people because that is what makes this book so good. Barrett, despite being a very competent academic theologian, writes in a style that is clear and confident but also easy-going and understandable. Consider this, from the chapter on God’s jealousy: “In our age of inclusivism, exclusivism is considered intolerant, but if we really think about it, intolerant is sometimes the most loving thing we could be. No woman wants to marry a man who is so tolerant that he could not care less if she has affairs with other men… Intolerant love is the type of jealousy we cannot do without. Apart from it, we have no reassurance that our spouse loves us enough to pursue us“. Similarly, in the chapter on ‘Aseity’, pondering the question ‘Does God Depend on You?’, Barrett writes: “God is not a needy God. It’s not as if he was bored, twiddling his thumbs, desperately lonely prior to creating the world. God is not dependent on the world for his existence, nor is he dependent on the world for his happiness and self-fulfillment. Instead, he possesses life in and of himself. More precisely, he is the fullness of life in and of himself“. Amen!
I wish I’d had this book as an undergraduate, as a postgraduate, and as a volunteer working with theology students. I hope it will be widely read – not least by those who think theology is boring or pointless. I think it would be particularly helpful for pastors leading churches at the time of COVID-19, as it becomes tempting to water down our doctrine of God. As I said at the end of my review of Canon, Covenant and Christology, I’m still excited to read more of Barrett’s stuff.