God’s Glory Alone: The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life, by David VanDrunen. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015, 186 pages, $16.99, paper.

Soli Deo Gloria is, as Professor VanDrunen subtitles this volume, The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life. Indeed, “Soli Deo Gloria can be understood as the glue that holds the other solas in place, or the center that draws the other solas into a grand, unified whole” (15). This clear, reliable, and insightful guide is intended to restore the pursuit of the glory of God alone to its rightful place in the faith and practice of Christians.

The book is organized into three sections for a total of eight chapters. The first section, “The Glory of God in Reformed Theology,” helpfully begins with an examination of Luther on “A Theology of Glory versus a Theology of the Cross.” VanDrunen’s treatment of Luther warns readers against looking for the supreme manifestation of God’s glory elsewhere than in Jesus Christ and him crucified. This discussion is followed by an examination of how John Calvin corrects the common misunderstanding that glorifying God necessitates the demeaning of human beings. Calvin quite effectively shows that God glorifies himself (in part) through the glorification of his creation. Rather than the exaltation of God requiring that human beings be demeaned, it only requires that our pride be brought low while actually lifting up redeemed humanity to increasingly reflect God’s glory into this world. In the second chapter, VanDrunen focuses on the period of Reformed Orthodoxy. In particular, he focuses on the Westminster Confession of Faith, Edward Leigh, Jonathan Edwards, and Herman Bavinck. VanDrunen helpfully dispels the notion that the glory of God is primarily about what we do for God.

There seems to be something imbalanced about focusing the soli Deo gloria theme exclusively upon Christians acting for God’s glory. For one thing, it produces the awkward and ironic result that soli Deo gloria becomes centered on us: how we are to act and what end we should pursue…. When soli Deo gloria turns into a program for human cultural renewal, we may well suspect that what was meant to be a theocentric battle cry has been distorted by more than a little anthropocentric static. (26)

The second section of the book, “The Glory of God in Scripture,” begins with a careful examination of the Shekinah glory cloud in the Old Testament which is a strikingly prominent feature of the Exodus narratives. The manifestation of the glory of God in this manner was both a blessing and a problem for a sinful people. As VanDrunen later asks:

Who can read this Old Testament history and not proclaim soli Deo gloria? Page after page shows that all glory belongs to God alone. Especially evident is that God glorifies himself through his judgment upon the unrighteous. Not so clear, however, is the Reformation’s related claim that God glorifies himself in part by glorifying his people, such that soli Deo gloria becomes part of the good news of salvation. (64)

This challenge leads naturally to the book’s chapters on “The Glory of God Incarnate” and “The Glory of Christ in the Glorification of His People.” For it is only in Jesus Christ that the revelation of God’s glory becomes good news for us.

Having laid the biblical and theological foundations in the first two sections, VanDrunen concludes with three chapters of application, which I consider to be the three most interesting chapters in the book: “Prayer and Worship in an Age of Distraction,” “The Fear of the LORD in an Age of Narcissism,” and “Glorifying God in an Age That is Passing.” Each of these chapters could helpfully be taught in an adult Sunday school class. Professor VanDrunen ably explains media ecology in a manner that is scholarly, accessible to lay people, and immediately applicable to our lives. Pastors and elders should carefully consider whether or not we are providing sufficiently clear and forceful guidance to our congregations on how to navigate the distractions and temptations of the information age, and Professor VanDrunen is a superb guide along the way. While it is easy to talk about being hooked on perpetual distractedness as though this were a mild inconvenience, Professor VanDrunen clearly demonstrates that, for its many blessings, the information age directly assaults central aspects of our vocation as Christians, such as prayer and sustained meditation upon God’s Word. Among other solutions, VanDrunen urges renewing genuine Sabbath observance as an important aspect of recovering prayer in the midst of a culture that seems increasingly designed to displace the important, even the essential, with the tyranny of the urgent. Because few people think of themselves as narcissists, VanDrunen shows pastoral sensitivity by resurrecting an older term:

I will also refer to another term, vainglory (or vanity), that clarifies just how implicated we all are in the kinds of sin that narcissism involves. Christian moral theology has traditionally identified vainglory as one of the seven deadly vices. (132)

I have wrestled as a pastor with how best to deal with this kind of narcissism in the church and have found the research and application that VanDrunen presents to be quite helpful in my own thinking and ministry.

The only very minor drawback to this book is that it is written in a plain, logical style best suited for those who are already interested in the topic. It is easy to imagine that some of those whom pastors would most want to engage with this material will stop reading before they are halfway through this otherwise commendable book. That is a shame because recovering our commitment to Soli Deo Gloria would bring great blessings both to individual Christians and to our local churches. Highly recommended for pastors, elders, deacons, and group study.

David A. Booth is an Orthodox Presbyterian minister serving as pastor of Merrimack Valley Presbyterian Church in North Andover, Massachusetts. Ordained Servant Online, November 2016.

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Ordained Servant: November 2016

All Things to All Men

Also in this issue

Exercising Wisdom about “All Things”

Geerhardus Vos: Education in America and Europe, 1881–1888

Impossible People by Os Guinness

The Holy Spirit by Christopher R. J. Holmes

Encouragement for Today’s Pastors by Joel R. Beeke and Terry D. Slachter

The Leaves below My Town

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