I finished reading ‘Simply God’ about a week ago now, and have been taking some time to wander back through the pages and chew over what I’ve read. Originally I was going to blog my musings as I read, but about halfway through chapter two I’d scribbled more notes in the margin than I could fit into ten blog posts, so I decided to press on with reading and note-taking, and to reflect once I’d reached the end.
The good thing about reading back over something you’ve read before, is that all the initial gut reaction to a text abates slightly, and you come to the subject matter not so much like being in the middle of an intense conversation, but more like an eavesdropper, listening in on yourself (and your initial reactions) and the author in their discussion. I think the gut reaction is important, and not to be brushed aside, but so is taking time to let new ideas sink in.
‘Simply God’ is a book that has made me react! I had a fairly good idea of what I was getting myself into from the start – Sanlon is helpfully clear in spelling out for the reader his aims and intentions in writing the book, as I mentioned in my other post, and one of the reasons the book was recommended to me was because of conversations I’d had about my ‘struggles’ with Anselm and my enjoyment of some of Colin Gunton’s writings. Whilst Peter Sanlon has clarified for me the origins of the doctrines of simplicity, perfection and immutability, and their importance in the history of the church, I’ve also come away from reading the book with a sense of surprise at how strongly I reacted against some of these doctrines, or at least the way they seem to be spoken of. This, whilst being a slightly unnerving experience, has been immensely helpful to see with clearer focus where my current convictions differ from the likes of Anselm, Augustine or more contemporary theologians, and has given me a lot to think about. Sanlon is right to warn his readers of cultural drift, drawing us away from truths that believers have held to for centuries, and I have felt the ‘needle’ of conviction on that score!
Similarly, a particular theme running through the book, which acts as a rightly humbling reminder, is that saints of the ages past have held to these doctrines with delight and thankfulness. I am (please don’t misunderstand me on this!) not in a rush to ignore them, what they taught or the way the Lord has used them to build His church. I am, however, unable to escape the fact that I do have several, significant issues with what I’ve read, so my posts will be an opportunity to ‘test my framework’ out loud, and see whether it holds up to the challenges of simplicity, perfection and immutability as laid out in this book.
I’ve wondered what would be a good question to start with, and I’ve narrowed it down to three areas: God and who he is, how we know who God is, and who are we to know God? I’m not sure where to begin…