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God: A Brief History.

God: A Brief History. By Paul E. Capetz. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003. vii and 192 pages. Paper. $9.00.

This is a wonderful book! Paul Capetz of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities has provided a succinct introduction to the history of the development of the doctrine of God that stretches from the Old Testament to the present. God: A Brief History is a theological consideration of the most urgent questions as they have appeared historically. His study is not intended to be exhaustive. Capetz says, "as a study in history, follows a chronological framework for the sake of exploring how Christian understanding of God have developed from biblical times to the present day. As a study in theology, the narrative is designed to highlight some of the questions to be pondered by contemporary Christians as they consider how to articulate the meaning of faith in God for today" (p. vii).

Despite its brevity, Capetz's study contains gems. In his examination of the relationship of Christology to the Trinity he notes that there are yet three unresolved issues: (1) Is the Trinity a form of tritheism, a form of monotheism, or something else? (2) What was the role of Greek philosophy in the development of the doctrine of the Trinity? And how should it be evaluated? (3) Would the doctrine of the Trinity have emerged had there been no christological controversy? (pp. 57-58) Capetz makes a compelling argument for considering Julian of Norwich alongside Luther and Calvin. He says that Julian's concern is the same as that of Luther: the quest for certainty about salvation (p. 86).

For those familiar with Luther, Capetz's examination of Luther may not be very satisfying. Capetz's exposition of Luther is not off the mark, but it lacks depth and familiarity with Luther's corpus. With Luther Capetz tends to cite secondary literature and does not provide citations to the standard American Edition of Luther's Works. He is clearly more comfortable with Calvin and provides extensive coverage with citations to primary sources.

Capetz hits his stride in the final three chapters. His exposition of Kant, Schleiermacher, and Hegel is succinct without surrendering any content. The same can be said for his coverage of the twentieth century in which he discusses Barth, Tillich, and Whitehead before finishing with Gordon Kaufman and James Gustafson. Interestingly, and disappointingly, Capetz does not discuss at length any of the great twentieth-century Roman Catholic theologians. Here I am thinking especially of Karl Rahner. Capetz acknowledges Rahner's maxim that "the Trinity in the economy and history of salvation is the immanent Trinity" but goes no further.

Capetz concludes this little book by stating that "it is more illuminating to speak of the Christian traditions in the plural. There has never been a single Christian doctrine of God, just as there has never been a single doctrine of ecclesiology, Christology, or soteriology.... This raises crucial questions about how we are to understand the meanings of 'ecumenism' and 'orthodoxy' in our time" (p. 170).

This book doesn't provide answers, but that is not Capetz's purpose. His purpose is to provide a brief overview of the development of the doctrine of God. In that he has succeeded.

David C. Ratke

Lenoir-Rhyne College

Hickory, North Carolina
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Author:Ratke, David C.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book review
Date:Aug 1, 2006
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