The Lord is Still Great

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of my book, Great is the Lord: Theology for the Praise of God (Eerdmans). I am pleased and humbled that after 10 years the book is being used in seminaries and colleges more now than ever before—much more. Though modest by some measures the book sold 512 copies in the last 6 months. I assume that most of those were used in seminary classes. I still feel and believe what I wrote 10 years ago in the Preface to that book. Below is a slightly edited version of that Preface:

“From the ocean side slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains on the campus of Pepperdine University I look over the moonlit bay to the giant city of Los Angeles and feel a stab of pain. The word “God” in some language finds a place in the vocabulary of every resident of that city of nations. But do they know what it really means?  I fear that many do not. For, if they did, every street corner would echo with thanksgiving and every courtyard ring with praise. I feel that same stab, if to a lesser extent, when I enter my general studies classes the first day of the semester. I see beautiful, intelligent, and privileged young people and I love them. In that poignant moment I feel the weight of my responsibility: how can I help them see why their joy must come from loving God above all things….

“The great Franciscan theologian Bonaventure (1217-1274) warned that the deadliest enemies of theology are the pride and curiosity of theologians. The purpose of theology, he urged, is to “become virtuous and attain salvation.” Theologians, he cautioned, should not fool themselves into thinking that “reading is sufficient without unction, speculation without devotion, investigation without wonder, observation without rejoicing, work without piety, knowledge without love, understanding without humility or endeavor without divine grace” (Itinerarium mentis in Deum). The academic style dominant today leaves little room for a Bonaventure-style theology. And it is not easy to swim against this current…Nonetheless, I believe writing a theology that praises God is worth the risk….


The Argument


“I shall defend a traditional doctrine of God. I argue not only that the traditional doctrine is not guilty of making God uncaring, aloof, and threatening to human freedom—as some critics claim—but that it actually preserves our confidence in God’s love, intimate presence, and liberating action better than its opponents do. Far from effacing our humanity, the traditional doctrine grounds our dignity and freedom in the center of reality, the Trinitarian life of God. Here is the heart and soul and passion and pain of my book. Whether in praise or blame, make your judgment here.


The “Traditional” Doctrine of God


“I have already indicated that I shall defend the “traditional” doctrine of God. Perhaps then I should explain briefly what I mean by this term. I mean the teaching about God that was held by almost the whole church from the second to the twentieth century and is still held by most believers: God is Triune, loving, merciful, gracious, patient, wise, one, simple, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, omnipresent, immutable, impassible, and glorious. The church understood these characteristics as Scriptural teachings, not as philosophical theories. They were explained and defended by such fourth-century theologian-bishops as Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus.


“They were enshrined in ecumenical creeds and denominational confessions of faith. This doctrine was explained and defended by Augustine of Hippo, who became the theologian to the Western world. It was summarized by the Eastern theologian John of Damascus (c. 675- c.749) in his Orthodox Faith. In the middle ages such theologians as Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and Bonaventura wrote treatises expounding and defending the traditional divine attributes. It was held by the Protestant Reformers and their descendants in almost all Protestant churches. And it was cherished by Alexander Campbell, leading light in my own tradition, the Stone-Campbell Movement.


“This doctrine of God went almost unchallenged within church until the eighteenth century and then it was challenged only by a few on the periphery. Only in the twentieth century did it come under wide-spread criticism. Today, even among many evangelical and otherwise conservative writers, rehearsing the shortcomings of the “traditional” or “classical” teaching has become a standard way to introduce one’s own (presumably better) doctrine of God. Unfortunately, many of these writers evidence little real knowledge of the traditional doctrine and offer such a caricature of that teaching that the reader has to wonder how the church’s most saintly and brilliant teachers could have been so deceived for so long.


“I wrote this book to correct this caricature and show why the traditional doctrine of God dominated the church’s thinking for so long. My answer is intimated in the title of this book: Great is the Lord: Theology for the Praise of God. I believe the traditional doctrine of God focuses our attention on the unsurpassable greatness of God and urges us praise him according to his infinite worth. I am overjoyed to add my little “Amen” to that great chorus of angels, psalmists, apostles, saints, martyrs, doctors, and teachers, who have said to us through the ages: “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise!”


Note: You can read the full Preface and look through the Table of Contents on

4 thoughts on “The Lord is Still Great

  1. nokareon

    Congratulations! I have heard that you describe Great is the Lord as the best systematic theology text on the doctrine of God out there. What about it makes it the best? (I plan on reading it someday, but alas, it may be after my graduate studies in my own field are completed).


  2. ifaqtheology Post author

    I hope I did not publically say my book was the best! But I do think it is good. Here is why: I think it combines worship, prayer, reason, and faithfulness to scripture and the best of the church as well as any book on the subject. I think also it is written with the reader in mind, to lead the reader to insights rather simply compete with other academic theologians. For some reason sales have exponentially increased within the last three years. I’ve received encouraging notes from professors who use it and students who have read it. Knowing you Thomas I am certain you’d enjoy reading it and find it intellectually and spiritually stimulating. Blessings, rh.


  3. Dick Hotchkiss

    Dear Ifaq (Ron, if I may)

    The subject of trinity will never cease to be of great interest to Christians and non-believers alike, and similarly to the devout and holy, the very depth of understanding of this phenomenon is inevitably tinged with concern. We can all look up trinity on Wiki and examine the propositions, and the earliest debates and dissention (e.g. Bishop Arius and other heresies), but will not find a single sentence therein on the 50,000 names of God. The ancient Hebrew rites, and the shear reverence and omnipotence of divine Sovereignty. But in St.John’s Gospel our Lord says ” nobody knows the father save the son…”. We have a dichotomy in the OT between the appearance of the Spirit of God to the many prophets, and a lip-service clergy that Jesus somewhat hates “in that day I shall say- I never knew you! “. Where in fact, their lips may have said one thing, and our hearts betrayed quite another. It is exactly the same thing all over again, there is no difference today in many ways. And as you point towards, the solution lies in a virtually misunderstood, little-used word. This word is ‘piety’. Sadly, it is just the same as “doctrine”. The word doctrine is described with the word “dogma” and the word dogma is decscribed with “doctrine”. Piety is NOT EVEN described in many many modern dictionaries using the word “God”! And several I have seen refer to ancient Hebrew ideas of describing a new generation of Jews as those exercising extra religious love and neighbourliness that goes above and beyond that expected by tradition, the so-called “holier than thou sects”. I feel that it is holiness and piety that Isaiah refers to (11:1-7) when he speaks directly of the attributes of the rod from the root of Jesse. That being Jesus Christ. And it is a very sad day when some folks accept “reverence in the fear of God” as a valid translation, instead of “holiness (and piety) laid down with the knowledge of the holy fear of God”. There is a massive difference, and while some churches “revere” the virgin Mary, as the mother of God, then I for one cannot revere God in the same way. Let us look to this word ‘piety’ and see if can ask what it really means to us?

    Your friend J. Smalhouse



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