Christopher Holmes’ book, The Lord is Good: Seeking the God of the Psalter, is a unique book in that Holmes attempts to defend the doctrine of divine simplicity by engaging with the Psalms and the history of their interpretation. Among the people Holmes engages with, Aquinas gets most of the attention.
Although this book is great for a number of reasons, this book is highly significant for one particular reason: how it can be used to address critiques of divine simplicity.
Last year James Dolezal published a book titled, All That is in God in which he argued for the classical doctrine of divine simplicity. One author defines simplicity like this:
The simplicity of God means God is not made up of his attributes. He does not consist of goodness, mercy, justice, and power. He is goodness, mercy, justice, and power. Every attribute of God is identical with his essence, which also means that although the attributes of God are revealed to us as varied, they are (on the God-side of knowing) identical with one another.
Despite simplicity’s established place in traditional theology, a number of bloggers/theologians came after Dolezal’s book on the grounds that such doctrine is unbliblical. John Frame is representative of such critiques:
But until a better way appears (perhaps in the new Heavens and new Earth) I intend to follow the biblical depictions of the Father, Son, and Spirit as a holy family, both in Heaven and on Earth, analogous to (though certainly not identical with) our earthly families, with a unity far beyond what any society of human beings is capable of.
Holmes, in my opinion, does a fine job of showing that “Simplicity is an extrabiblical term [like Trinity]… that says something true about who God is.” (17) Moreover, it is a concept that “honors biblical patterns of speech.” This is because “The Scriptures ascribe many attributes to God, and teaching on simplicity enables us to see how the many attributes of God are wone with himself.” (11)
Aside from the academic significance of this book I want to share about the book’s personal significance to me. You see, when I read this book I was at sitting on an inlet in British Columbia. I was there serving at a Young Life Camp called Malibu.
Very few “academic” books lead me to the sort of moments of awe I experienced while reading The Lord is Good (T.F. Torrance’s books are an exception). But I had a genuine moment of feeling in awe of God and his goodness while I was reading. At times the way Holmes brought Aquinas in to talk about God’s goodness literally almost brought me to tears. There was one particular section of the book that not only had me yearning for the day when the knowledge of God covers the earth as the waters cover the seas but also had me thinking about the ministry I was doing at camp.
The Psalmist looks forward to the day when the praise he offers “from you in the great congregation shall extend to the ends of the earth.” [Psalm 22:25-28] Indeed, “the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.” The key word is remember. What is to be remembered is not something foreign to the earth, summoned as it is to remember. What men and women forget “through sin” is what is natural to us, namely a “certain knowledge of God.” Just so, “some knowledge of God” is inserted into all the families of the nations. What the apostles do – Thomas cites Jeremiah as an apostle – is lead us “back to the remembrance of natural knowledge.” They do not lead us back to knowledge that is alien to us but rather to the one whom we have forgotten to worship due to our sin. (101)
As I read that section, I was reflecting on what I was doing at camp. I was taking part in God’s work to lead people back to Jesus. All those who were taking part serving at camp take part in this by pointing the students to Christ and hoping and praying that as we do that it “clicks” – they “remember” who they have been created to be. But some people have a hard time “remembering.” One of the students, during a cabin time stated “I don’t know how to make myself a Christian.” This is highly representative of the way a lot of people talk about faith. But the reality is that such things are not from ourselves, they are from God alone. You can’t make yourself a Christian – only God can do that. Only the Spirit can make us new.
This is exactly what John 3 is about. Nicodemus is basically asking “how do I become a Christian” and Jesus responds by saying you have to be born again. This makes no sense because you can’t make yourself be born again. How do you even start to do that? Its impossible. So, the question is how do you make yourself do something that is impossible? Well Jesus tells him: the only way to be born again is by God’s Spirit. But the Spirit does what he wants! You can’t make the Spirit make you be born again. The Spirit does what he wants. You won’t even know the Spirit is there until BAM! The Spirit strikes and regenerates you.
So what can we do to point people back to knowledge of God? What can I do as a Young Life leader at camp? I pray. That is all I can do. Pray…. Pray that God uses something we do, whether its club, cabin time, hiking, games, basketball, talking over coffee, etc. that awakens that part of them that knows God made them for himself, so that they can see the truth of what, or better yet, who they were made for.