Conversations About God

Edited by Jon Paulien, Redlands, CA: Pine Knoll, 2020.

Doug Matacio, PhD, is a professor emeritus, Burman University, Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.

Conversations About God was originally a series of 20 Friday evening programs at Loma Linda University Church in 1984. The seated Graham Maxwell, a professor of religion at the university, made presentations and took questions from the audience, which were moderated by Pastor Louis Venden. Professor Jon Paulien edited the tapes for publication as a 481-page, elegantly illustrated book. The book includes Bible reference sheets with all the texts used in each presentation.

Maxwell states his thesis after the preface: “God is not the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be—arbitrary, unforgiving, and severe. . . . Our Creator . . . values nothing higher than the freedom, dignity, and individuality of His intelligent creatures—that their love, their faith, their willingness to listen and obey, may be freely given. He even prefers to regard us not as servants but as friends” (xii, xiii). So the book is a theodicy. When the conflict over God’s character and government is closely examined, we see that God has usually not chosen to restore trust by making claims (“I’m right, and the devil is wrong”) but by teaching, explanation, and demonstration over a long period of time (see chapter 4).

The first seven chapters cover the original conflict, the nature of sin, faith, and the human freedom to choose. Chapters 5 and 6 ask if the Bible can be trusted and, if so, how it can be understood. Chapter 7 shows how the Father and Son typically base their authority on evidence (e.g., Jesus on the walk to Emmaus) rather than claims or force. When Venden asks about substitutionary atonement in chapter 8, Maxwell replies that Jesus did die for us, paying the penalty for our sins, though we need to keep “the larger view” in mind (157, 184, 185). The cross also shows “there is no need to be afraid of God” (169), according to chapter 9.

Chapters 10–15 deal with topics in Christian living. The Sabbath as a sign of Creation and Redemption is a reminder of God’s loving goodness. Chapters 11 and 12 introduce the idea of “God’s emergency measures,” which include the giving of the law, designed to preserve freedom (Gal. 3:19–25). Chapter 13 shows how God treats erring children by forgiving those who are sorry (John 8:1–11). Chapter 14 uses a healing model to discuss the meaning of perfection, and chapter 15 speaks about praying to God as to a friend. Chapters 16–20 take us to the end times: the three angels’ messages, Satan’s last efforts to deceive, and the timing of the Second Coming. Chapter 20 points to the time when universal peace is restored. The book is a commentary on one phrase in the first angel’s message: “Fear God and give glory to him.”

A couple of quibbles: a subject index would have been helpful, and there is no hint of the specific topic in the title. But what makes this book so difficult to put down? First, it uplifts the character of God on every page. Second, it is the interaction between Maxwell and Venden. The questions are tough: If God won the war at Calvary, why isn’t it over? (17, 37). Didn’t God use force and power in the Old Testament? (132, 133). But Maxwell cheerily tackles every question.

The book, with its conversational tone, reads very easily. It succeeds in being profound without being overly “scholarly” and is a tour de force as a resource for preparing evangelistic Bible studies!

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Doug Matacio, PhD, is a professor emeritus, Burman University, Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.

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