Saturday, October 1, 2016

Book Review: In the Light of the Son by Andrew Moody

Andrew Moody, a graphic designer by day and theologian by night, has recently released the layman’s version of his doctoral thesis about the Trinity: In Light of the Son: Seeing everything through the Father’s love for the Son (Matthias Media, 2015) Moody’s thesis is that the love the Father has for the Son is communicated through creation, scripture and even our own redemption. We shouldn’t start with our earthly explanations of God and extrapolate backwards into eternity.  Instead, argues Moody, our starting point is the relationship within God, between the Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit), which then has echoes all the way through the doctrines of Creation, Redemption and Scripture. “You and I and everyone and everything else exist because God loves his Son and wants others to know, love and glorify him too.” (11) In this surprisingly short book Moody manages to coherently survey the Scriptural seat of this filial relationship (Col 1:15-20, John 5:19-23 & 1 Cor 8:5-6), the Trinitarian structure of creation, the image of God, the unique prophetic and unifying “succession” (104) of the Holy Spirit and the teleos of Christ. 

In Light of the Son was published before the most recent Trinitarian brouhaha about the connections, or lack thereof, between the doctrine of the Trinity and gender roles. The debate began as an intramural fight amoungst Complementarians but has since grown into a larger discussion about what we are allowed to say of God ad-intra, in himself. Everyone seems happy to affirm the love of the Father for the Son (and vice versa) during the History of Redemption, but some scholars put the brakes on when we ask what that relationship tells us about the immanent Godhead. For example Donald Macleod warns us that “… the love of the Father must not be regarded as initiating our salvation.” By contrast, Moody’s thesis is reminiscent of David Bentley Hart’s argument that the existence of, and our appreciation of beauty is a direct result of God’s self-revelation. “[God] is truly fully himself in all his acts ad extra, and the taxis of his salvific activity towards us is the same taxis that is his triune life.” (The Beauty of the Infinite, 159)

There is a time and a place for marshalling Scriptural proof-texts, but Moody instead directs us in the first chapter to three Biblical passages that carry the weight of his thesis. The centrepiece of the Apostle Paul’s argument, in his Epistle to the Colossians, is the mystery made known, God in Jesus. “Jesus represents God completely.” (19) From the Gospel of John Moody shows how Scripture explains the relationship between the Son and the Father. “Everything begins with the Father and everything is done through the Son.” (22) Moody then observes how Paul alludes to the Shema (Deut 6:4), when the Apostle is describing Jesus to the Corinthians (1 Cor 8:6), which shows “a complexity within the life of God.” (26) The chapter concludes with a useful Apologetic application. Moody provides two small and “familiar” (31) phrases to help us unpack the divine Father-Son relationship (27-35). “Jesus as the one who comes from God and as the one through whom God the Father works”. (149)

A trend in modern scholarship is the exultation of obscurity, an unfortunate by-product of specialisation and speculation. But the doctrine of the Trinity, says Catherine LaCugna should not be “locked up in itself and unrelated to us.” (God For Us, 2) And across the five subsequent chapters Moody’s book makes the doctrine of the Trinity both accessible and delightful. Firstly, while describing the Biblical category of “sonship” Moody shows how God accommodates himself to us. “Although we can never fully grasp who God is, or what God’s fatherhood means, we have been created similarly enough that God can speak to us and reveal himself to us.” (47) That God is accessible has practical consequences: the Jesus of the gospels is also the God of Heaven. (151) Secondly, although our world has been ruined by sin, we can still observe traces of beauty around us which in turn points to the beauty of the Father’s love for the Son. For example, we are made in the image of God, an echo of how the Son is the perfect image of God. (90)  “Jesus is the first human to represent God completely and consistently.” (95) But the Father loving and sending the Son isn’t just a theological structure; it’s a reality to delight in. This is good news, that stands in contrast to our east-of-Eden exile, which has at its heart “an attempt to console ourselves in the wake of our alienation from heaven.” (127) In other words, the essential heartache of Original Sin is being excluded from the love of the Father for the Son. However the History of Redemption ends in the Beatific Vision and our reconciliation to the three persons of God.