#ETS2015 Books of Note: Theology

While I might not be at ETS this year, if you are, I thought I’d share some books you should check out. Obviously, even if you’re not at ETS, you can still check these out. You’ll just miss out on whatever deals publishers are offering at their booths. And you’ll miss out on meeting people and all that jazz, but you knew that. Following somewhat in the footsteps of Zondervan, who offered two lists, this is my first on theology and tomorrow I’ll offer one on biblical studies.


Ultimately thanks to SPCK, but currently thanks to my own Amazon purchase, I’ve been reading through Anthony Thiselton’s Systematic Theology. So far it has been interesting, as in, I’m still trying to decide what I think about it. As far as the layout goes, it is 15 chapters of roughly equal length that are each split into 5 sections. Because of that, it is ideal for use in a semester long class on systematic theology. As far as content goes, Thiselton makes some interesting moves, though many are predictable if you know his background and publication track record. The opening chapter, Method and Truth, gets very philosophical (speech act theory, etc.). The chapters on God (2 and 3) cover a wide variety of topics, but no traditional treatment of the divine attributes (they aren’t untreated, to be clear though). This is followed by a chapter on the challenge of atheism, which though helpful as a rundown of post-Enlightenment thought, seemed out of place in a systematic.

I found Thiselton’s chapter on nonhuman creation particularly interesting, especially since he spends a section on animals interacting with the recent work of David Clough. Likewise, his chapter on sin is a “hermeneutical comparison of historical thinkers” tracing the way it has been understood through history. He does a similar historical take on theologies of the atonement. Two separate chapters are devoted to Jesus, though not divided along typical person and work sections. Instead, the first is on his role as mediator and the second is a “concise Christology” that is mostly historical in focus. Similarly, the chapters on the Holy Spirit are split between biblical insights and historical insights.The final three chapters cover ecclesiology and eschatology.

All in all, it is useful reference volume, but I don’t think it could serve well as a go-to textbook for systematics because of brevity and diversity. For the latter, Thiselton is very well read, and so has a plethora of sources to draw on. Sometimes, those moves don’t seem to be best for giving a representative exposition of the doctrine. Because of that, it is a systematic that belongs on the shelf in dialogue with other systematics, but maybe that’s simply the case with all of them.


Thanks to Baker Academic, last week I was able to read through Reading Barth With Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal. Unlike another book by George Hunsinger related to Barth, this isn’t a collection of previously published essays. Rather, it is Hunsinger’s extended plea to the revisionist school to practice a hermeneutic of charity in their reading of Barth. As such, this book drops into an on-going conversation related to Barth studies. If you’re not familiar with Barth, then this book probably isn’t for you. Through a series of chapters that spar with other top Barth scholars like Bruce McCormack, Hunsinger uses these criteria to to assses the revisionist position (xiii-xiv):

  • Does it seek to understand Barth’s theology in its strongest form before subjecting it to fundamental criticism?
  • Has it truly sought to understand Barth before picking out supposed difficulties or contradictions?
  • If apparent contradictions are discerned (as they are), has an active attempt been made to resolve them in Barth’s favor?
  • If no such attempt has been made (as it has not), does not a certain presumption exist against this interpretation?
  • Finally, do the revisionists honor the principle of humanity, or do they seem to adopt an attitude of condescension towards the writer whose views they are considering?
  • In short, are the revisionists entitled to their key claim that Barth’s views on election and the Trinity, when taken as a whole, are “inconsistent”?

This last question gives you an idea of the substance of the book’s focus on Barth. Hunsinger says no, they are not entitled to their revisionist claims about this aspect of Barth’s thought and it’s because they haven’t read him charitably. If you’d like to know how Hunsinger comes to this assessment, then you’ll need to read the book.


While we’re talking about Barth, you might want to check out Christopher R. J. Holmes’ The Holy Spirit in Zondervan Academic’s new series New Studies in Dogmatics. Edited by Michael Allen and Scott Swain, this series is a kind of update to the classics from G. C. Berkouwer. Holmes singles out Barth, along with Augustine and Thomas Aquinas as his main historical interlocutors (you can read excerpts here, here, and here). After these three parts, he closes with a section on regeneration, ecclesiology, and spiritual illumination. I’m excited to see where this series goes, and this first volume is a promising step.


Also in the realm of modern theology, specifically of the evangelical variety, there is the festschrift for John S. Feinberg. Thanks to Crossway I was able to get a copy of Building on The Foundations of Evangelical Theology to check out. The book has three parts, each using architectural metaphors. The first is like prolegomena in a sense, focusing “designing the architecture.” Here there are essays by Vanhoozer giving an evangelical account of the development of doctrine; Walt Kaiser’s take on trends in evangelical hermeneutics; and an intriguing account of evidence in apologetics by Thomas Provenzola to name three.

In the second section “setting the foundations,” there are essays on the doctrine of God by Bruce Ware and Keith Yandell; an essay on the modern rejection of biblical authority by John Morrison; and an interaction with Feinberg’s account of moral evil by Thomas McCall. The seven essays here somewhat follow the pattern of a traditional systematic with one essay per loci.

The final section, “erecting the superstructure,” deals with practical and ethical issues related to Feinberg’s thought. Graham Cole has an essay on the interface of the Trinity, imitation, and the Christian life; Harold Netland’s focuses on apologetics in a global, religiously diverse modern world; and John Kilner gets into bioethics.

While I was drawn more to the first two sections, each section gives a good sampling of the kinds of topics Feinberg has written and interacted with extensively. Within the essays, there are many worth digging into deeper in their own right, especially if you are interested in analytic and philosophical theology. I’m glad I have this as a resource and if there’s a sweet ETS discount, you might want to grab it as well!

Philosophy Friday: Intro to Aristotle

Having introduced Plato last week, we’re on to Aristotle. When I was in seminary, I found Aristotle a more attractive thinker and thought Plato’s whole forms things was nonsense. Since in some first year discussions I would have said I was more Aristotelian, it’s surprising I didn’t spend more time getting into Thomas Aquinas.

Philosophy Friday: Intro to Plato

In senior Bible, in addition to Ask Anything Friday, we’re now taking a 10-15 look at key figures and ideas in the history of philosophy. I’ve made use here and there of 8-Bit Philosophy videos, but The School of Life is a bit more systematic. I’m a bit surprised there is not a discussion of The Cave allegory in this video, but we can discuss it nonetheless. Plato’s insight into what to look for in a significant other is certainly counter-culture (point #3 in the video) and will probably be something we discuss further before getting to the questions of the day.

8-Bit Philosophy: Is Batman Just?

It’s been a while since we’ve had an episode of philosophy Friday. Might as well get back into the swing of things by pondering whether Batman is figure of justice or not. I tend to think taking the law into your hands, violence included or not, is not the path of justice. You’re no longer an agent of the state authorized to administer punishment for crimes. However, Batman tends to let the police actually take care of that part. All of this though is what makes the Dark Knight trilogy fascinating to me. That is probably a post for another day.

The Difference Between Intellectual Hastiness and Dishonesty


If you look closely at the background of the book cover, you can see all seven intellectual virtues. I’ve already talked about carefulness and intend to hit on all of them. After the last post, a friend corresponded with me offline about how it might not have been as clear as it could be. Specifically, I don’t think I laid out how to distinguish well between intellectual carefulness and intellectual honesty. Or, on the flipside, intellectual carelessness and intellectual dishonesty. Since I was strongly critiquing assumptions made on a lack of information, it could look as if I’m suggesting dishonesty on Carl Trueman’s part.

First, it might help to clarify what intellectual honesty looks like. Philip Dow makes an important distinction in the way intellectual honesty relates to the other virtues:

Unlike the other intellectual character traits, intellectual honesty is not primarily about the process of getting knowledge but rather about how we choose to use or present the knowledge we already have. In that sense, intellectual honesty is the link between the rest of our thinking and our actions (61).

He then describes the intellectually honest person this way:

[T]he aim of intellectually honest people is to communicate what they know with integrity. Because their main objective is to help others get at the truth, they are consistently careful not to use information taken out of context, to distort the truth by describing it with loaded language or to otherwise mislead through the manipulation of statistics or any other type of supporting evidence (61).

Dow adds an additional point about intellectually honest people citing their sources so as to not take credit for ideas not their own. From this, we could then say that intellectual dishonesty would come down to:

  • Intentionally taking information out of context in order to exaggerate or distort
  • Intentionally using information in a biased way
  • Intentionally taking credit for evidence or ideas not your own

The key word in the list is “intentionally.” In the Trueman situation, I’d have to know for sure that he knew all the relevant information related to the situation and then chose to only use the information that was helpful to the point he was trying to make. Suggesting he over-looked accessible information is pointing to a lack of carefulness. Suggesting he intentionally ignored information he already had would be pointing to a lack of honesty. While the latter is possible, I doubt that’s the case, and if it were, I don’t think I’d be able to know.

I realize looking at it now that my post could be read as suggesting that Trueman was being biased in the way he approached the situation. He does have a history of criticism when it comes to Tchividjian, so that is entirely possible. However, I specifically focused on his overlook of available evidence rather than misuse of the evidence he had. He made a judgment about the situation on an improper basis. One could still argue that it was unwise to hire Tchividjian, but not necessarily for the reasons Trueman cited. Rather than suggesting Trueman went about things in a biased manner and took things out of context, I just want to suggest he rushed to judgment and did a lot of assuming instead of researching. After the research, I imagine he’d come to similar conclusions, but at least they would be well grounded at that point.

In this light, to suggest that assuming a lack of carefulness when someone gets their facts wrong is giving them the benefit of the doubt. It is a way of practicing a charitable interpretation of their mistake. To directly suggest that they misused evidence is to charge them with dishonesty and in most cases goes beyond what you can know. In a culture that encourages a hermeneutics of suspicion it may be hard to go against the grain. I don’t always find it easy to do myself (see the comments on the last post). But learning to practice charity in interpreting other people’s mistakes is a discipline worth investing in.

As a recent example, I was listening to a sermon where the pastor made three pretty elementary mistakes in setting up the background of the passage he was going to preach. It would have been easy for me to mentally assume rather negative things and to discount or tune out the rest of the sermon. I fought against it and tried to just assume that in this instance, the pastor didn’t have enough time to study the passage well and so made some assumptions that were entirely reasonable, but factually inaccurate. He was either hasty or lazy, and I chose to assume the former since the latter is going beyond what I could actually know for sure. I assumed he overlooked the available correct information about the passage, or overlooked the correct information in his notes while he was speaking. Had he been more careful, he wouldn’t have made the mistake.

If I had assumed some level dishonesty on his part, it would have cast a long shadow over the rest of the sermon. It is particularly easy to think that if I can’t trust someone to get basic background details right, that I shouldn’t trust them with the rest of what they have to say. On the one hand, that can be reasonable. But on the other, it could be an assumption of dishonesty coming into play. At the very least, you may doubt that they are using the information reliably even they are not intentionally trying to deceive. Or, you could assume that in getting some background details wrong early in the sermon, that means more time was spent crafting and developing the latter part, which was the case in my recent experience. Those early background details could have gone unmentioned and it wouldn’t have affected the remainder of the sermon. In fact, for me, it would have strengthened it.

At the end of the day, there is much overlap in the virtues as well as the vices. It can seem that charging someone with intellectual hastiness may also suggest dishonesty, or even laziness. In some cases, they may coalesce. In the previous case I discussed, I think it just simply a matter of hastiness to pass judgment on the matter. That is someone a result of the age we live in and the culture the internet encourages. But, it is much better to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger as someone once said. And like all things, that is easier said than done.

Intellectual Virtues and Tullian Tchividjian’s New Job


In terms of a theology of the Christian life, I’m not particularly a fan of Tullian Tchividjian. I don’t think he articulates well how grace and obedience relate under the new covenant and wouldn’t recommend his books as resources. I don’t think he’s a heretic, or that he teaches full blown antinomianism. I am however a fan of his preaching, and after he preached one weekend when we were at The Village, I completely understand why he has such a following.

I am going to assume you’re loosely familiar with the ways he has made the news in the last few months. He resigned from Coral Ridge because of adultery, both on his and his wife’s part, the sequence of events not being relevant (for what I’m writing about). Then you probably saw a few weeks back that he is getting divorced. There is much more to the whole story, especially when you throw Paul Tripp’s involvement into the mix. But again, details are not relevant for the point I’d like to make.

I’m more interested in the response to Tchividjian being hired by Willow Creek PCA. This happens to be a local church for us (in good old Winter Springs), and we have friends that go there. I know the associate pastor (via Starbucks) and even applied for a youth pastor position there a while back. It’s a decent sized church. Not a mega church by American standards, but not necessarily a small church either.

Somewhat predictably, within the Reformed evangelical neck of the woods there was not a positive response to Tchividjian’s hiring. As a representative sample, consider the posts at Mortification of Spin by Todd Pruitt and my favorite, by Carl Trueman. Tullian has been a favorite whipping boy of Carl’s for a while, so like I said, I could almost guess the response before reading it.

While there is wisdom in warning against restoring a pastor to ministry too soon, there are also a clear lack of intellectual carefulness in assessing the situation and then passing judgment. I think I noticed this because of teaching a new class I’m teaching at school called Creative Problem Solving. Really, it’s a class on critical thinking and as part of our foundational section, we’ve been covering the intellectual virtues. I’ve found Philip Dow’s book Virtuous Minds to be particularly helpful. There, he defines intellectual carefulness as follows:

Those who are intellectually careful earnestly want to know the truth and so consistently make sure not to rush to hasty conclusions based on limited evidence. They are patient and diligent in their thinking, careful that they do not overlook important details (34).

Given this definition, the opposing vice would be intellectual hastiness. Returning back to Trueman, here is the first part of his final paragraph:

No one begrudges a man the chance to earn a living.  Further, I doubt that WillowCreek PCA has done anything wrong at a technical level with regard to the PCA’s Book of Church Order.  Tchividjian has been defrocked and has not been restored to ordained office.  Morally, however, the situation is this: a man deemed unfit to hold teaching office just three weeks ago is now occupying a position of teaching influence in the same denomination.  Maybe not illegal, but certainly irresponsible towards both him and those he will influence.  At the very minimum it is also most discourteous towards the Presbytery which acted to remove him and whose informed judgment in the matter has been for all practical purposes rejected.

His points here would be valid, if his underlying information were accurate. However, it’s not.

For one, he does not now hold a position of teaching influence within the PCA. One might guess that’s what his job entails simply from the title on the church’s website, but then again, that’s just guessing. The title “Director of Ministry Development” is ambiguous for sure, but an intellectual careful response wouldn’t assume what the job description is in absence of more details. If you were curious what exactly this job title entailed, you might do well to ask the pastor of the church.

In addition, Trueman presumes to know that this hiring was either circumventing the South Florida Presbytery’s censure, or directly flaunting it. Rather, it seems that there was a clear transfer of Tchividjian’s care at work (see previous link). Trueman might be assuming, based on his previous erroneous assumption of the nature of the job, that a church couldn’t possibly hire Tchividjian without rejecting the South Florida Prebytery’s decision. But then again, that is the lack of carefulness compounding itself.

Elsewhere, I’ve seen people have either directly lament Tchividjian being restored to ministry too soon, or indirectly pointing out how unwise such a thing would be. However, this rests on the wrong assumption that this constitutes restoration to ministry. Likewise, it may be assuming that this hiring is celebrity driven. It overlooks the fact that this was Tchividjian’s old church home during his time at RTS Orlando and that he has had an on-going relationship with members there during his pastorate at Coral Ridge. It also confuses a church staff position with being a minister, and again, assumes too much about what the job entails (again, see previous link).

Speaking too soon and too authoritatively without enough information also fails to display intellectual humility. Many people don’t really need to comment on this situation one way or the other. Many people also aren’t making much of an effort to understand all the information. Many people do not have intellectual virtues when it comes to how they analyze a situation like this, and so once again, we have a lot of sound and noise on Twitter, but most of it signifying nothing.

In the past, I’ve certainly been guilty of contributing to the noise. But, as I’m studying the intellectual virtues more, I’m finding myself drawn to recommitting myself to not only thinking critically, but thinking carefully. It’s easy to rush to judgment. It’s much harder to hold a tentative opinion until you’ve gather the necessary facts to draw sound conclusions. I’d like to pursue more growth in this area myself and I hope you’re interested in doing the same.

Fool’s Talk: Recovering The Art of Christian Persuasion


I have a fairly long interest in apologetics. I’m not actually sure when it started, but the skeleton was taking shape by the time I left Bible school and was put to the test while I worked at Starbucks. The bones got meat put on them while I was in seminary, and I would eventually win the apologetics award for my Th.M thesis. All during this time I was reading books on the subject, either content or method. But, in all that reading I never really came across a book quite like this one.

I’ve read a few Os Guinness books in the past, one at the direct recommendation of Chuck Swindoll when I talked to him after chapel (he enthusiastically told me to read The Call). Neither was directly about apologetics though. This book, is not directly about it either, at least in the sense that most people would think of a book being about apologetics. There is a chapter explain why we shouldn’t be after the latest and greatest techniques (chapter 2), but that’s often a feature of works on apologetics. There is no extended presentation of the viable evidence for Christianity, yet that doesn’t mean arguments aren’t made for its validity. And while technique is eschewed, there are two chapters on general approaches to persuasively interacting with nonbelievers (chapters 6 and 7).

In a word, Fool’s Talk: Recovering The Art of Christian Persuasion re-frames the motive and aims of the apologist slash evangelist. In an age where most everyone says “I post, therefore I am” (15) Guinness seeks to remedy “a central and serious shortcoming in Christian communication today” (16). Specifically, “we have lost the art of Christian persuasion and we must recover it” (17). “Persuasion” in this sense being “the art of speaking to people who, for whatever reason, are indifferent or resistant to what we have to say” (18).

This leads to the heart of the problem, which Guinness explains as a problem of the heart (18): “The fact is that much contemporary advocacy ignores the deeper understandings of the spiritual and philosophical ways in which people think through their faiths, change their faiths, and the impact of their cultures and their ways of life on their thinking and beliefs” (18). We won’t understand unbelief and so have difficulty persuasively explaining our beliefs. We also mistakenly assume people are open to what we have to say when increasingly that is not the case.

In the first two chapters, Guinness makes a case for creativity in our persuasion while also avoiding a reliance on techniques. In regards to the former, Guinness argues that our discourse must be cross-centered and cross-shaped. For the latter, Guinness suggests that “Technique is the devil’s bait for the Christian persuader today” (30). Because there is no such thing as “McApologetics” (32) we mustn’t offer a one-size fits all approach to our persuasion. Ultimately, persuasion is an art, not a science and in its creative form “is the art of truth, the art that truth inspires” (34). We need more cross talk than clever talk (39). Because creative presentation is spiritual and moral, in addition to being intellectual (43), we must avoid simple reliance on technique which is never neutral and “essentially soulless” (44).

Chapters 3 and 4 make a case for defending our faith and being willing to be seen as foolish in doing so. In this regard, Guinness states,

Apologetics (from apologia in Greek) is a “word back,” a reasoned defense mounted on behalf of the one we love who is innocent but has been falsely and unfairly accused. Faith desires to let God be God. Sin has framed God, whether by the ultimate insults that he, the creator of all things, does not exist, or that he, the white-hot holy One, is responsible for the evil and suffering that humans have introduced into his good creation. So God’s name must be cleared and his existence and character brought to the fore beyond question (54-55, emphasis original).

Because of this, “so long as sin frames God, those who love God have a job to do in the world” (55). In the course of making our defense, we may appear foolish, but this is the way of the “third fool.” There are fools proper (see Proverbs) and fools for Christ (see 1 Corinthians). Then there are fool-makers, those willing to be seen as foolish in order to “bounce back and play the jester, addressing truth to power, pricking the balloons of the high and mighty, and telling the emperor that he has no clothes” (72).

Chapter 5 presents an erudite explanation of unbelief. In biblical perspective, “the central core of the anatomy of unbelief stems from its willful abuse of truth” (85). It does this through suppression, exploitation, inversion, and ultimately self-deception (86-89). This all leads to a tension that will not quite go away. Because the truth is, well, the truth, a worldview that reacts the way unbelief does will always sit uneasily in a person’s conscience. Guinness explains this the “dilemma pole” and the “diversion pole”:

The dilemma pole expresses the logic of the fact that the more consistent people are to their own view of reality, the less close they are to God’s reality and the more likely they are to feel their dilemma. The diversion pole expresses the fact that the less consistent people are to their own view of reality, the closer they are to God’s reality so the more they must find a diversion. Neither pole is necessarily closer to God, because unbelief as unbelief will not bow to God either way, but the people at either pole are relating to God and to their own claims to truth in entirely different ways (96, emphasis original).

In our culture, people more often gravitate toward the diversion pole as a our technological society proliferates. However, the dilemma pole is more consistent and leads to biblical themes like becoming like what your worship and reaping what you sow (98).

Given this understanding of unbelief, Guinness offers two strategies for persuasion in chapters 6 and 7 respectively. The former discusses “turning the tables,” which is more suited to those near the dilemma pole while the latter discusses “triggering the signals,” which is more suited to the diversion pole. For those more consistent in rejecting God (dilemma), the tables being turned pushes their own argument back against them in a variety of ways. For those less consistent, but just as disinterested (diversion), the signals triggered point to something beyond their current belief system that can only make sense in God’s reality. It is a way of sometimes waking our conservation partner from their agnostic slumbers.

In the final chapters, touches on using questions well in conversation and other ways to spring load our persuasion (chapter 8). He also discusses how to not shy away but embrace the accusation of hypocrisy (chapter 10), while not claiming to always be right (chapter 9). He closes chapter about those in the church who have left and how they become formidable challengers to the Christian faith because of their inside perspective (chapter 11), and a general overview of the apologist’s journey (chapter 12).

While I could probably continue on for another 500-1000 words about how excellent this book is, I think you get the idea. Guinness helps readers go a long way toward recovering the art of persuasion which often fails to be on many would be apologist’s radar. He takes elements from many schools of thought and threads them together in a way that will help readers integrate the best insights those schools have to offer. What might have been helpful is to chart some of this more clearly in the endnotes (which are unfortunately not footnotes). Having read widely in apologetics, I’m aware when he is being presuppositional, but that’s not always clear. The target audience might be why this kind of conceptual architecture wasn’t laid bare. It seems geared toward a general audience (this isn’t IVP Academic), but it is a very sophisticated read, and so may shoot over many lay reader’s heads. Needless to say, this all points to the challenge involved in writing this sort of book. At the end of the day, I think Guinness did a fine job and you’ll definitely want to pick up a copy of this book.

Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk: Recovering The Art of Christian PersuasionDowners Grove, IL: IVP Books, July 2015. 270 pp. Hardcover, $22.00.

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Thanks to IVP Books for the review copy!