WHO IS GOD?
Key Moments of Biblical Revelation
By Richard Bauckham
Baker Academic, 120 pages. £15.99
ISBN 978 1 540 961 907
In modern multi-confessional Britain, we cannot just ask: ‘Do you believe in God’, but must add: ‘In what kind of God do you believe?’
The word ‘God’ means something different to Hindus, Jews, Muslims, etc. Once, at a ‘Rally for Islam’ in Trafalgar Square, a white Muslim convert angrily denied to his shocked Christian hearers that ‘God is Love’. Sadly, many Christians are unable to adequately present God’s attributes – perhaps because so few sermons focus on these, especially in terms of divine ontology.
Aimed at the layman
Bauckham’s short and accessible book – aimed at the layman – is an excellent aid in this respect. There are four chapters – The Revelation of: the Divine Presence; the Divine Name; the Divine Character; the Trinity. The first centres on Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Gen.28), and the promise that God was ‘with’ him. Bauckham focuses on the fact that the dream reveals that God is not locally restricted, but that He is in ‘every place where Jacob sleeps’ (p.9). YHWH was not the local deity of Canaan, but was also ‘with’ Jacob in Mesopotamia (Gen. 35:3, p.10). Later, when Jacob moves to Egypt, God promises to ‘go down’ with him (46:4). The point is not omnipresence, but that ‘God’s presence is personal and active’ (p.12). Ultimately, this is realised in Jesus as Immanuel – God with us (p.19).
The revelation of the divine name -YHWH – discloses not just a nomenclature, but rather that ‘God is self-subsistent and self-determining’ (p.42). Bauckham prefers its future meaning – ‘I will be what I will be’. God cannot be constrained, but freely ‘commits Himself to a course of action for Israel’s sake’ (p.43). Immediately, this refers to their redemption, but Bauckham emphasises that the Shema (Deut. 6:4), ‘The LORD is one’, means that He is the unique God ‘of all the earth’ (p.46), and that the nations will know God by His personal name – not the names of other deities.
The revelation of the divine character occurs in Exodus 32-34 – the golden calf and its consequences. When Moses asks God to show him His glory, God reveals that He is gracious, merciful, loving, faithful, forgiving and holy (p.67). This is useful to explain to Muslims, who often query the need for the crucifixion by asking why God cannot simply forgive – ignoring His holiness.
Jesus – greater than any prophet
The last chapter centres on Christ’s baptism, His transfiguration, and on the centurion’s words at His crucifixion. Obviously, at the baptism, we encounter the descent of the Spirit and the voice from heaven which affirms that Jesus ‘is my beloved Son’ – the accent being on the adjective, since this indicates Jesus’ uniqueness, as in Genesis 22:2; Judges 11:34 (p.97).
Similar language is used at the transfiguration, but Bauckham shows that its import is that Jesus is superior to the prophets Moses and Elijah, for whom Peter wishes to make three tents as if they were all on the same level (p.100). The force of the heavenly words is that ‘This is my beloved Son … listen to Him’ (p.101), correcting Peter’s lack of understanding. Jesus is greater than even the greatest prophets – very relevant in answering Muslims.
The centurion’s words are pertinent: Jesus truly is the Son of God. Bauckham’s book is to be highly recommended as an evangelistic aid.
Dr Anthony McRoy
Dr Anthony McRoy is a researcher and lecturer in Islamics. He is the author of From Rushdie to 7/7: The Radicalisation of Islam in Britain.