I’ve had this book on my shelves for years, and finally got round to re-reading it and reviewing it recently, as I was inspired by the publication of Steven Duby’s God in Himself. Peter Sanlon’s first book Simply God: Recovering the Classical Trinity is an excellent but overlooked book that I think deserves a wider readership than it has achieved to date. Blending systematic theology, historical theology and biblical theology with a dry sense of humour and an excitement about Jesus, this is a book that is well worth reading.
With a foreword by Paul Helm, and endorsements from heavyweights including Mike Reeves, Graham Tomlin and Jeremy Begbie, you don’t need me to tell you this is a good book. But if you’ve read this far, then it’s worth saying that this book is divided, just, into three parts. The first and smallest part is an introduction that invites us to start ‘Engaging with God’, in a way that recognises the fear some people have of theology, but demonstrates Peter’s confidence in God. This introduction is very helpful, as the book then ramps up quite quickly to cover a serious range of topics. This introduction, which is essential reading for most of us though could be skipped by those of us with theological training, leads on to Part 1 ‘The Simple God’ and Part 2 ‘The Relational God’.
Peter goes in pretty hard and pretty deep in Part 1, but this is because of the complex reality of life and theology. We are led by the hand through what it means to understand God ‘simply’ (spoiler: it is actually really helpful!) and challenged to think carefully about how God engages with time. Ultimately, though, the Christian reading this book is likely to be drawn to their knees in prayer and worship. As the author writes, when pondering God’s character and qualities: “A fresh glimpse of God’s eternal omniscience drives us to prayer, and undergirds all true conversation with the Creator“. By spending time reading a theological book like this, we are encouraged to look again, deeper, at the Cross: “In the death of Jesus we see true goodness and true power… the future beyond the grave, for all who have the Spirit, is an eternal world of love“, and this is because “Jesus is at the centre of God’s plans for the universe…“. This is a book about God, which challenges a number of popular ideas about and around God through the firm application of Scripture, logic, and beautiful writing. Peter writes well, and communicates complex theological ideas in surprisingly simple language.
Having delved deep into the character and nature of God, the second major part of Simply God goes deeper into what God’s simplicity and character means. This sees a focus, through the theme ‘The Relational God’, on a number of more controversial doctrinal areas. The challenge of theology is carefully engaged with: “We find it difficult, even impossible, to conceptualize a God who is perfectly loving. Perhaps this is part of the explanation for so much resistance to the classical doctrine of God: it takes too much effort to understand the teachings. Far easier to caricature it as unrelational and unloving“; and a timely observation (given the author had the book published in 2015!) that rings true today: “Like all cultures, our generation struggles to relate unity and difference. Torn between the desire for relationships and independence, we veer from one extreme to another“. This book might sound like an ivory-tower set of ideas about theology, but it is deeply practical, and an important read for followers of Jesus now.
I’ve not mentioned that each chapter ends with a meditation and prayer – this is theology for the whole person, not just the mind. This makes this book something that could be used as a devotional aid – for a longer, meatier quite time, perhaps. This book is a good companion to Mike Reeves’ The Good God, and an excellent read for church leaders wanting to equip their people to think theologically. I would warmly recommend Simply God, and hope that it gets the readership it deserves.