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Samuel Wells

British Theologian

Edited from his review of Grammar in Theology, a British journal.

Reading a heavy two-volume systematic theology is like watching a downhill skier. You know the enterprise is full of dangers, and not really a spectator sport. You look for signs of nerves, and half close your eyes at the sharp corners. But if, as in this case, the skier shows good technique, your confidence gradually grows and you relax, and by the end it becomes an exhilarating experience. This project is a remarkable achievement. It is comprehensive, earthed, mature and nuanced. It never misses a trick. It will be my first point of recourse on many issues for a long time to come.

The most satisfying part of the work comes when Jones, having secured a plausible doctrine of the Trinity, through discarding the negative attributes (immutability, etc.), turns his attention to human nature. He presents humanity as creaturely, personal, and spiritual—in other words, a mirror of the Trinity of Creator, Son, and Spirit. This is beautifully done, and shows that a Barthian approach can define humanity in ways that a more humanist model never could. Likewise the Barthian approach brings refreshing logic to the 'grammar of sin': 'All humans are loved and forgiven in Jesus Christ. Therefore, all humans are in need of God's love and forgiveness. Therefore, all humans are sinners'(p. 349). No labored 'fear of finitude' there. The approach works less well however in the chapter on the Christian life, where 'agapic love' becomes a basket containing rather too much freight.

This is theology that is, to use Jones' own words, 'clear, supple, discriminate, and pertinent'(p.343). It is rigorously systematic, in its coverage of doctrines, and in its method of precise definitions and carefully expounding them. It is thoroughly theological in its commitment to revelation and its uncompromising (but thoughtful) Christocentricism. It warms the heart.