Book Reviews

Book Review: “God in Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian Theology” by Steven J. Duby

Steven J. Duby approaches the difficult topic of trying to discuss the nature of God as God from a metaphysical perspective in God in Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian Theology. The major questions he tackles are whether we can know God as God is in Himself (Duby uses the masculine throughout to refer to God’s being, which I will follow in this review for simplicity’s sake), and how we might know God as God is.

These are not easy questions, despite seeming obvious at first glance. For example, the question of how we might know God in Himself is notoriously difficult and fairly controversial. Can we speak of God univocally? Turning to this question first, Duby in the last full chapter discusses what he considers the “(Right) Doctrine of Analogy.” That doctrine has to both balance divine transcendence and divine communication, which, Duby concludes, means that a right balance will make us hopeful that creaturely language might be used in theology proper (290-291). Duby leans towards the Thomistic use of analogy as a right way to refer to God, though it seems his response is more hopeful for the possiblity of univocity than some. However, Duby does fall on the side that analogy is the only real possibility, and defends against modern arguments for univocity (284ff). Here, I find myself in some disagreement with Duby here. Admitting that I’m no expert, I think the weight of the arguments for univocity is actually much heavier than he seems to. For example, Scotus’s view that analogy “‘is simply equivocation without an a priori univocally predicable concept'” (284, quoting Daniel Horan) is, on its face, correct. Duby’s response, that “in an analogical account of theological language a divine attribute still shares an aspect of its ratio with the corresponding creaturely attribute” reads as basically conceding the point. Nevertheless, Duby’s arguments related to analogy are ably written and certainly force careful thought, no matter what one’s position is going in.

Duby’s main points about how he views God in Himself are outlined in a response to Karl Barth’s positions related to the Incarnation and beyond. His points are ninefold, and some are directly related to side issues rather than the main point, so I’ll summarize them into just a few points. First, Duby argues that God is “complete in se without reference to creatures and their history” (48); God’s attributes are not “parts” to be added to God’s essence but “nothing other than his eternal essence” (49); knowledge of God in Himself is not purely negative (51); and a strong affirmation of divine simplicity is affirmed (51-55). Duby spends much of the rest of the book defending these points, and the discussions are deep (as above). 

There are a few other points I’d like to highlight, though these reveal more of my own background alongside the book’s content. First is the strange use of scholarship in regards to Martin Luther’s theology. For example, when Duby discusses Luther’s view of the “hidden God,” the lens through which he views it is decidedly Reformed. Now, that seems a given since from what I understand within the book Duby is Reformed himself, but it also means that Luther’s own view gets a strange hearing. Speaking of Luther’s hidden God, Duby writes that “Even a sympathetic interpreter of Luther like Carl Trueman calls Luther’s discussion of God’s hidden will ‘brutal'” (46). But of course, while Trueman may be “sympathetic,” he’s a Confessional Reformed Christian whose position on many, many doctrinal issues would see Luther’s view as necessarily mistaken in order to maintain his own confessions. Why is Trueman cited as a kind of final arbiter of the state of Luther’s doctrine? It seems the reason is because he’s Reformed. And Carl Trueman being cited as sympathetic makes sense due to his, well, sympathetic book on Luther and the Christian Life (link to my review), but that sympathetic reading is a general one. Citing Trueman as a kind of final arbiter of Luther’s validity here seems odd, given that it’s just obvious that a “Confessional Reformed” believer would strongly disagree with a Lutheran position that is a point of departure between their traditions. 

Then, turning to Duby’s defense of the extra Calvinisticum over and against Lutheran theology once again seems more an exercise in self-affirmation of a chosen doctrine than in understanding the Lutheran position. But here I reveal my own biases, Yet Duby’s seeming twists to accommodate the notion that Christ is God while trying to restrain Christ’s power–preventing the God-man from exercising that very power of God–is revealing to this reader, at least. Moreover, Duby’s response to Barth on this point seems to misunderstand the objection to the extra Calvinisticum as a denial of the hypostatic union, since he writes “what if assimilation of the two natures is simply not necessary? What if it is sufficient to affirm that the hypostasis himself is the locus of union?” (182). But Lutherans–and, so far as I can tell, Barth, to whom Duby is responding–do not deny the hypostatic union, nor its sufficiency, and certainly do not “assimilate” the two natures. Responding to Duby, one may well ask “What if God the Son were actually allowed by Calvinists to exercise God’s power?” It’s a bit on the nose to ask the question thus, but the loaded nature of the question gets at the underlying point: Duby’s position–and that of Calvinists and Reformed believers generally–seems to put artificial limits on God in order to maintain their own theological commitments regarding things like the Lord’s Supper. 

God in Himself is a fascinating look at some of the deepest questions about God. The book will be most valuable to those readers who wish to engage the questions from a Reformed perspective–either to see how to better argue for their own positions, or to argue against the Reformed view. Duby outlines and defends numerous positions with great care, and it’s worth the read even in disagreement. 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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SDG.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.

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