Archives For Theology

It’s hard to believe it’s been three years since I last made it to an ETS regional. Actually, looking at the timeline, I think I go every three years because my first one was in 2011. I also have presented at each one (you can read the previous papers here), and continue that tradition this year.

I re-worked a paper from my Romans class at Dallas. It need some revision and updating, both for newer resources and evolution in thought. The result is called New Perspectives on Paul: Reconciling Wright, Schreiner, and Thielman on Justification. Here is the intro:

The purpose of this paper is to offer an epistemological framework that is suitable for harmonizing differing positions on the nature of justification. The focus here is first, on introducing the framework, and then second, on demonstrating its usefulness in some recent dialogue, namely, the plenary addresses from the 2010 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society Rather than a rigorous exegetical defense, this is a proposal using a tool of epistemology to attempt to solve a theological difficulty. While all the different perspectives are not completely resolvable, the three presented at the 2010 annual meeting just might be.

I don’t pretend to think it solves all the problems associated with interpreting Paul’s theology. I do however think that John Frame’s triperspectivalism is a useful tool for navigating the different emphases and integrating various conclusions into a coherent whole. As to whether anyone agrees, I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

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With Reformation Day upon us, I thought I’d do a reading roundup on several relevant books. As promised, I’m keeping to 7 at a time. For more explanation, see last week’s post. Unlike last week, 2 of these books (the bottom two pictured) are my purchases. The rest, I have to thank Zondervan, IVP Academic, Crossway, and Baker Academic for the hookup!

God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture (Zondervan)

First off, I was able to read the next volume in The 5 Solas Series (I also enjoyed this one). Matthew Barrett is not only the author of this volume, but the editor of the series as a whole. So far, this is the largest entry by far, and that’s because Barrett covers quite a bit of ground. The first part offers a historical survey of the attacks on the doctrine of Scripture from the Reformation to now. Then, in the second part of the book he presents a biblical theology of Scripture, from a mostly covenantal point of view. This might be the most distinctive part of the book. In the final section he takes up the typical topics related to the doctrine of Scripture (authority, inerrancy, clarity, and sufficiency) and clarifies what they mean and don’t mean, and then also deals with a modern objection (or two). Having just covered this section a few weeks back in our systematic class, I found this a useful read and look forward to the final two entries in this particular series.

Saving The Bible From Ourselves: Learning to Read & Live the Bible Well (IVP Academic)

Glenn Paauw’s book turns from doctrine to practice. Here, he is specifically interested in how we go about reading the Bible, and takes a publisher’s eye to it as well. The chapters are paired up to present, first a problem, and second, his vision for a solution. The chapters as a whole are arranged chiastically, which let me tell you, makes it attractive before you even start reading. To give one example of an issue Paauw sees, his opening chapters deal with how our published Bible tend to make the actual process of reading more difficult. There is quite a bit of clutter on a typical page of Scripture, especially in a study Bible. He proposes we give more attention to how this influences reading, something I’ll have more to say about later this week or next. To give an idea how the chiasm works, his final two chapters get even more focused on how the print within the Bible is laid out, so that it’s beauty is more evident.

This was a thought provoking and engaging read. My only complaint is that his underlying doctrine of Scripture seemed a little too friendly with Christian Smith, N. T. Wright, and Pete Enns. Might not be a problem for you, and overall doesn’t take too much away from his proposals. But if you’ve seen Smith’s Bible Made Impossible devastated in a review, you don’t necessarily like seeing anyone rely on it too heavily.

Theologians You Should Know: An Introduction: From The Apostolic Fathers to the 21st Century (Crossway)

This was a great beach read over the summer from Michael Reeves. It is also an excellent introduction to key theologians in a readable and semi-concise format. The first half of the book begins a brief overview of the Apostolic Fathers, and then chapters on Justin Martyr/Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. One almost suspects a theme towards the end there. The second half starts with Luther, then moves to Calvin, Owen, Edwards, Schleiermacher, Barth, and J. I. Packer. In each chapter, Reeves offers a mini biography and background for each theologian. He then touches on their theology, which he says will “amount to a fast job through each theologian’s major work(s)” (16). So, not only to get a idea of the context of each of these theologians, you are better prepared to read at least some of their most important writings, which is something you should certainly do.

The Voice of God in The Text of Scripture: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (Zondervan)

Once again, you can have the privilege of reading the papers presented at the annual Los Angeles Theology Conference. This time, it’s from the Fourth Annual installment and the topic is the doctrine of Scripture. Previously, topics were Christology, the Trinity, and Atonement. Once again, a solid lineup of speakers with papers in hand. Daniel Treier kicks it off with an essay on an evangelical dogmatics of Scripture before Stephen Fowl does some theological interpretation of Scripture about Scripture in Hebrews. Elsewhere, Hebrews plays a key part in Myk Habets essay about reading retroactively. A pair of essays deal with historical biblical criticism, asking whether the voice of God can be found there in one, and a response to Plantinga’s critique of Troeltsch in another. All in all, I worked through this one pretty quickly the last two weekends and enjoyed myself immensely.

Engaging the Doctrine of Revelation: The Mediation of The Gospel through Church and Scripture (Baker Academic)

This volume by Matthew Levering is something I’ll need to come back to in due time. While this is a Reformation themed post, notice that in Levering’s subtitle, he speaks of revelation mediated through the church as well as Scripture. And well he should since he’s Catholic (of the capital C variety). As such, he and I would disagree here and there, but he seems to be reading all my favorite authors (including the two mentioned below) and writing copious footnotes interacting with their works so as to not clutter up the main text too much. I include it hear with the hearty recommendation that it is the work to engage (no pun intended) if you want to see a Catholic writer working with the fruits of evangelical scholarship, agreeing for the most part, but then putting their work in dialogue with Dei Verbum. I wasn’t able to critically interact with it at the depth I think the book deserves, but should a dissertation topic go this way, I know this will come in handy.

The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church (Brazos Press)

This most recent book by Peter Leithart, as well as the following by Kevin Vanhoozer and two books I’m currently reading and enjoy. I have tried to read pretty much everything I can by both authors. With Leithart, I’m sure I’ll be provoked to deeper though, but if I’m reading well, will also not quite agree with everything. As I’m starting to gather more intersted in ecclesiology (for reasons I’ll explain later), this will hopefully prove to be a key conversation partner.

Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Brazos Press)

This latest by Kevin Vanhoozer is based on a set of lectures given at Moore Theological College last year. It’s Vanhoozer offering a chapter on each sola, giving historical context and contemporary expression. He sprinkles in theses on what a mere protestant Christianity should look like. What more could you ask for?

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Crossway let me get a hold of an eBook version of John Piper’s latest, A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness (see this sample). If you’ve ever read a book by John Piper, I’m not sure this much here that would surprise you. However, if you happen to be looking for an accessible overview of why we can trust the Bible, this could be a good place to start.

The book has 5 parts that span almost 300 pages. In the first, Piper gives his personal story of coming to trust the Bible. The next part of the book takes three chapters to discuss the basics of canon and original manuscripts. As I heard Michael Kruger frame it recently, the basic questions are, “do we have the right books?” and “do these books have the right words?” Piper takes two chapters to answer the first (one for Old Testament and one for New, obviously) and one to answer the second. While not overly technical, Piper does give a good overview of the same kind of material I studies on these questions in seminary.

The next part of the book asks what these books claim for themselves. Without spoiling too much, the consistent witness across Old and New Testaments is that the Bible claims to be the word of God. Most people tend to feel like this is circular, to which I usually say, “yes.” I’ll then explain that your ultimate authority needs to be self-attesting (verifies itself) if it’s really your ultimate authority.

When we discussed this recently in my 11th grade Bible class, I pointed out that if someone claims reason is the ultimate authority for determining truth, they have to use reason to prove their point. Same problem of circularity, different ultimate authority. Much to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s chagrin, it’s even worse if you claim science as ultimate authority.Since you can’t use the scientific method to prove science is or should be the ultimate authority, you’ll have to provide a logical argument instead, and now we all know that reason is your ultimate authority and that your worldview is just as circular as the Christianity that you like to pick on.

All of that is a roundabout way to point out that it is not a problem, logically speaking, for your ultimate authority to prove itself. That’s kind of what makes it ultimate. It’s the end of the road. The Bible is the Word of God because it says so. Believe it, obey it, and it will prove itself true in your life. To further support that, Piper’s next part of the book take an historical turn and visits Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, and Pascal’s wager. I thought this was helpful after looking at what Scripture claimed for itself.

In the final part of the book, Piper continues to tease out how the glory of God is seen in Scripture and also the means by which it is confirmed for us as the Word of God. Having started with his own story, moved through Scripture’s claims for itself, and what great theological minds have made of it, this is a great way to draw the book to a close (and mention that it has a sequel in the works). It is also the part of the book that is perhaps most distinctive to Piper, since earlier parts are mostly summarizing and translating available scholarship into a more lay accessible format.

Overall, I found this book to be classic Piper, and a helpful refresher on an important topic. I’m still a bit more partial to John Frame’s Doctrine of The Word of God for a stand alone volume on the topic, but I appreciate Piper’s angle on it. I will be interested to see how Piper lays out his thinking further in the planned follow up to this volume, which I think comes out next spring.

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Shortly before there was a sudden resurgence of interest in Trinitarian theology, I had been reading Thomas McCall’s Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology. You know, just light beach reading.

The book covers a lot of ground in its 250 or so pages. The first section gives an overview chapter on recent discussions within philosophical theology, biblical foundations for monotheism, and some principles for doctrinal analysis. The second section tackles either a key theologian’s ideas, or a specific issue. The three theologians in question are Robert Jenson, Jurgen Moltmann, and John Zizioulas. The specific issue is Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS for short). Pretty timely right? Especially since this was published in 2010, and so written ever a year or more before that.

McCall brings a helpful analytic tool to the discussion that I’m not sure has been utilized in the recent online writings. He distinguishes between “soft” and “hard” EFS. The former is would be something along the lines of “The Son is functionally subordinate to the Father during the time of his incarnate and redemptive work, and this is true at all times” (176-177). McCall notes that unless you confuse temporal and logical modalities, there hardly anything controversial with this statement.

As for the latter, here McCall specifically highlights Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem. Here the claim is more related to the interior divine life, how God is ad intra. In other words, it would be claim that regardless of the incarnation and redemptive work of Christ, the Son has always been functionally subordinate into eternity past.

From here, McCall raises some questions and poses a serious problem. The problem can be laid out in a serious of propositions (179-180):

  1. If Hard EFS is true, then the Son has the property being functionally subordinate in all time segments in all possible worlds.
  2. If the Son has this property in every possible world, then the Son has this property necessarily. Furthermore, the Son has this property with de re rather than de dicto necessity.
  3. If the Son has this property necessarily (de re), then the Son has it essentially
  4. If Hard EFS is true, then the Son has this property essentially while the Father does not
  5. If the Son has this property essentially and the Father does not, then the Son is of a different essence than the Father. Thus the Son is heteroousios rather than homoousios

He gives a sampling of possible responses, and then gets into a section that asks whether there is a biblical basis for hard EFS (which is what Grudem claims for instance). McCall suggests that there are not any passages that push one to have to accept hard EFS, but rather are consistent with a soft approach instead.

Certainly people aware of the debate are aware that it often ties into understandings about gender roles. However, if hard EFS is true, it does not actually support a complimentarian position. Rather, as McCall relays a point from Keith Yandell in a footnote (187n37), it strongly suggests that women are inferior to men. If you look back up at the list of propositions and substitute “women” for “Son” and “men” for “Father,” it’s rather obvious that’s how the argument would work.

It seems at the end of the day, it is more consistent with the tradition of theological reflection, and not inconsistent with Scripture to affirm a soft EFS and deny its hard counterpart. Also, in doing so, the affirmation would not have a strong connection to gender roles. Or, to anticipate one of McCall’s theses below, it is an aspect of Trinitarian doctrine that is now detached from a sociopolitcal agenda.

If you’re interested in this debate, and the topic in general, I’d encourage you to read this book. It might take a while to wade through, but it is worth the effort. To give you an idea what some of his conclusions are, I’ll just close with the 15 theses he lists in his own conclusion to the book. He breaks them into categories, and I’ve done the same.

Theses on Trinitarian Theological Method

  • Trinitarian theology should attend to important issues of theological prolegomena (220)
  • Trinitarian theologians should work to see the doctrine of the Trinity in the context of the broader biblical narrative (222)
  • Trinitarian theology should not conflate Trinitarian doctrine with sociopolitical agendas (224)
  • Trinitarian theologians should be clear about the place of “mystery” (227)
  • Trinitarian theology should be clear about its goals; I suggest that attempts to deal with the “threeness-oneness problem” should offer an account that is coherent (or at least not obviously incoherent), is compatible with the biblical portraits of the distinctness of the divine persons, is in accord with the scriptural account of monotheism, and is consistent with t he major creeds of Christendom (229)

Theses of the “Threeness-Oneness Problem” of the Trinity

  • Trinitarian theology should be committed to monotheism (233)
  • Trinitarian theology should insist on the full divinity of the distinct persons, and it should avoid whatever might compromise the full equality and divinity of the persons (236)
  • Trinitarian theology should insist on an understanding of persons that is consistent with the New Testament portrayal of the divine persons, that is, as distinct centers of consciousness and will who exist together, in loving relationships of mutual dependence (236)
  • Trinitarian theology should reject ST [Social Trinitarianism] theories that relay upon merely generic perichoretic unity, RT [Relative Trinitarianism] theories that leave open the door to either moralism or anti realism, and LT [Latin Trinitarianism] (241)
  • Trinitarian theology should adopt either the constitution view (CT) or a modified version of ST (243)

Theses on the God-World Relation

  • Trinitarian theologians can, and should – although perhaps not always for distinctly Trinitarian reasons – hold that creation is continent rather than necessary (246)
  • Trinitarian theologians should maintain that creation is the free expression of the holy love that is an essential attribute of the triune God (248)
  • Trinitarian theologians should affirm Jenson’s “Identification Thesis” but deny his “Identity Thesis” (250)
  • If properly nuanced, the doctrine of perichoresis can be a helpful category for understanding divine purposes for creation (and the God-world relation more generally) (250)
  • Trinitarian theologians should affirm that the providential and redemptive actions of the triune God should be understood in light of the triune identity and purposes for creation (251)

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Well, Mike Bird has done it again. “It” meaning “written a book.” This time it is a primer on The Apostles’ Creed, aptly title What Christians Ought to Believe, and Zondervan was kind enough to send me a copy. In just over 200 pages Bird introduces readers to the creed, explains why you need it, and then devotes roughly a chapter per phrase of the creed. At the end of most chapters, he summarizes the story of the creed so far, and in every chapter he offers a few resources for further reading.

While focused on The Apostles’ Creed, this volume is a good companion to Bird’s larger systematic Evangelical Theology (which I still need to post a review summary for). There is similarity here to a previous Zondervan publication, Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith, and then later rewritten abridgment Pilgrim Theology (I’m more a fan of the latter rather than the former, although the price makes it less enticing). However, in that case, the small volume was covering more or less the same ground, just in a more accessible way. Here, Bird is writing about The Apostles’ Creed, but when a more in-depth discussion is warranted on certain points, he can merely direct readers to where he’s covered it in his larger volume.

As it stands, this would be a good volume to use to introduce readers to theology, but through a classic, catholic (little c!) creed. There is just enough here to get your feet wet, and then wade into the waist deep water of the beliefs that all Christians should share. It would make an excellent book for a small group that wants to study theology in an organized way, but doesn’t want to commit to a systematic. Plus, you have the advantage of Bird’s clear and at times humorous writing style. The result is an accessible engaging volume that effectively introduces readers to Christian doctrine.

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On the other end of the spectrum is Thomas McCall’s An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology. While no less clear than Bird, this slim (less than 200pp) volume introduces readers to philosophical theology. Well, I suppose the two terms are not exactly interchangeable. Philosophical theology developed out of philosophy of religion as the tools of philosophy were applied to Christian theology.

Now, the preferred term is analytic theology. Quoting from William Abraham, McCall uses this definition: “it is systematic theology attuned to the skills, resources, and virtues of analytic philosophy” (16). This comes from the introduction where McCall helpfully lays out what analytic theology should be, and then clears up misconceptions about what it isn’t.

The remaining four chapters demonstrate analytic theology in practice. First, in relation to our understanding of Scripture. Second, McCall shows analytic theology’s virtues when it comes to the history of doctrine. The next chapter puts analytic theology to use in a case study concerning creation, evolution, and the historical Adam. The final, briefest chapter, is where the invitation in the title comes in, as McCall casts vision for what analytic theology can contribute and encourages readers to pursue it.

All in all, this is an excellent introduction to what could easily be an overwhelming field of study. It defines the topic clearly, puts it into practice in a variety of subjects, and shows that it has value for the church and world. Hard to ask for more than that.

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If you know me personally, you have to be aware that I like animals. Not all animals mind you. Just pretty much all mammals, penguins, and the occasional interesting reptile. A key factor in my sports allegiance is that I like dolphins as animals. I’ve researched how to legally obtain a bear cub short of living in Russia (hint: Montana). I still chase squirrels and any other critter I come across in the wild (read: suburban Orlando).

For all this interest in animals, I haven’t done much theological reflection on their purpose. In other words, I take them as a given facet of creation but haven’t wondered why they might exist (other than for my amusement). I have a similar relationship with music, although I’ve actually done a bit of research there.

Whether one is interested or not, there are not many books or articles that give a theology of animals. Thankfully, David Clough has been doing some research to remedy that. Now in paperback (and so accessible to people who aren’t research libraries) his On Animals: Vol. 1 Systematic Theology lays a foundation that will eventually be supplemented by a volume on ethics.

The current volume is divided into three sections: Creation, Reconciliation, and Redemption. The first comprises three chapters which explore the role of animals in creation, as well as their continuity and discontinuity with humans. The second section uses two chapters to examines the relationship Christ’s incarnation and atonement have on the animal kingdom. The final section raises questions about the scope of redemption and then what our redeemed living ought to look like. This provides a nice setup for his anticipated follow up work.

I imagine you’d like some predicates to go with those subjects. In the first section, Clough argues for a stronger continuity between humans and animals as creatures of God. Discontinuity is noted, but since the received wisdom to accent that, Clough highlights ways in which that thinking can be misguided. While made in the image of God, we stand in solidarity with other creatures as a recipients of God’s address.

In the second section Clough does some historical tracing to support the idea of sin in the animal kingdom. He likewise argues for Christ’s incarnation being for creation as a whole, returning again to the idea of creaturely solidarity. Finally, he makes the interesting point that Christ’s death is often construed as an animal sacrifice, thus identifying him with the animals in some way.

In the final section Clough raises redemptive and eschatological questions when it comes to animals. Attention is drawn to how often depictions of creaturely harmony in the eternal involve animals. They are not incidental details. Likewise, returning to Christ’s death, it saved humans but it also saved a significant number of animals from death by ritual sacrifice. Just as humans longed to be redeemed from the bondage of sin and death, a significant subset of animals were condemned to die through the sacrificial system.

On the whole, I might not agree with everything here, but I’d recommend this study of a recently neglected topic. Other than Anthony Thiselton’s recent short systematic (which explicitly references Clough), I don’t think I’ve seen much reference to animals in theology. Clough’s volume draws from a history of Christian thought on the subject giving readers a good framework for beginning to think constructively on their own on this topic. Even if you don’t chase squirrels, if you’re a fan of systematic theology this is worth getting your hands on. Unlike squirrels, it won’t bite if you do.


David L. Clough, On Animals: Volume 1: Systematic TheologyNew York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, January 2014. 240 pp. Paperback, $39.95.

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Thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copy!

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An increasingly common mode of theology is retrieval. Maybe that’s not the right way to phrase it, but the idea is that we aren’t the first people to ask theological questions. Just maybe some important voices from the past can shed light on our contemporary questions. If one is merely explaining what the past voices said, it’s historical theology. If you’re drawing the historical sources into the present it’s retrieval.

Marc Cortez has done a masterful job of this in his recent Christological Anthropology In Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology. While Zondervan doesn’t want to own the fact they published this on their website, they sent me a review copy nonetheless. You’ll notice the word “anthropology” shows up in the title and the subtitle. If I were to take a stab at rewording the title to eliminate jargon, it would actually be longer than it already is. It might help though if you’re new to this type of terminology. Basically, Cortez book is a study of how past voices have understood the man Jesus Christ and how that helps us understand humanity in a theological sense.

His chosen conversation partners are:

  • Gregory of Nyssa
  • Julian of Norwich
  • Martin Luther
  • Friedrich Schleiermacher
  • Karl Barth
  • John Zizioulas
  • James Cone

The last two names are actually consider modern, and I suppose Barth is as well. Luther gives us a Reformer’s perspective and Schleiermacher and Enlightenment tinted one. Julian of Norwich gives us a medieval and mystical point of view, and Gregory of Nyssa represents the Church Fathers well.

These historical perspectives are bracketed by an introduction that explains what it means to use a Christ-centered lens for the study and a conclusion that points toward how this study can help our understanding of ourselves. For the former, Cortez explains,

In its most basic form, the fundamental intuition of a christological anthropology is that beliefs about the human person (anthropology) must be warranted in some way by beliefs about Jesus (christological). We will explore more deeply what this “in some way” actually means through these various studies. Even without a more precise explanation, through, the distinctive nature of a christological anthropology is that Christology warrants at least some anthropological claims in such a way that those claims are only true in virtue off the truth of their christological ground (20).

The two questions that then frame the study are “what does is mean to say that Christology somehow grounds anthropological claims?” And second, what issues in anthropology can such christologically oriented anthropologies meaningfully address?” (23) In the conclusion, Cortez makes a distinction between minimal and comprehensive christological anthropologies (225):

  • A minimally christological anthropology is one in which (1) Christology warrants important claims about what it means to be human and (2) the scope of those claims goes beyond issues like the image of God and ethics
  • A comprehensively christological anthropology is one in which (1) Christology warrants ultimate claims about true humanity such that (2) the scope of those claims applies to all anthropological data

He then notes that all of the case studies he worked through are the latter. Ultimately, each case study Cortez presents is from a perspective that is “convinced that a christological vision is necessary for a theologically adequate understanding of the human person,” yet also demonstrates “continued diversity within this common conviction” (232). In other words, they share a philosophical base even if they reach some varied theological conclusions. The authors are asking different questions and responding to different challenges. What Cortez suggests is that bringing these different perspectives to bear in our modern (and/or postmodern) context can be a fruitful theological project. These past theologians provide a kind of methodology that we can and should utilize in the present.

While not long, this book is fairly dense and it’s not something you’ll want to take the beach for light reading (unless you’re weird). The individual chapters can be read out of order (if you’re into that) but it is a commitment to really sit down and read a single chapter at once. I wouldn’t recommend pausing in the middle. It’s not actually that bad, I just want you prepared.

If you or someone you love is interested in studying the human person in light of theology and more importantly, Jesus Christ, this book is worth procuring. You don’t need a seminary degree to read and benefit from it, but you probably do need to be used to academic theological writing. If you are, you’ll benefit from listening to key voices from the past in order to have the tools to better understand the present (I think I said that before).

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Few theologians are doing more to revitalize theology in content and form than Kevin Vanhoozer. While I think I would recommend pretty much all of his books, his most recent Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and Wisdom, might be the best for getting acquainted with his thought.

As a collection of essays, many of which began as oral presentations, you are able to get a “snapshot” of Vanhoozer in his element, but without necessarily committing to a sustained theological argument spanning several hundred pages. His Drama of Doctrine changed my life, but it’s not for the faint of heart. And in fact, this collection of essays is for people who want to see his theodramatic systematics at work without committing to reading his “Great Pumpkin.” While not necessarily a sustained argument, it at least indirectly offers a sustained plea for “incorporation the imagination into the work of theology as a sapiential systematics” (12).

Having established all this, Vanhoozer offers a formal introduction to his collection of essays, seeing the imagination as a helping provide the metaphors by which a holy nation lives. There, he explains that his “working hypothesis throughout this book is that the church needs a biblically formed, reformed and transformed imagination in order to live out a vital faith (44). He then explains that the chapters the follow are organized like an art exhibit. Because after all, what is a Vanhoozer book without a metaphor operating at the theoretical level? He continues explaining by saying,

The reader proceeds through a foyer and then through three galleries. Each gallery contains various biblical exhibits: essays that depict various scenes of the church’s worship, witness and wisdom. Each part of the book also includes a sermon – an exercise in faithfully imagining biblical truth (44).

The promenade begins in the foyer, where I discuss certain introductory matters of “prolegomena” – suggestions for imagining biblical authority and evangelicalism – including the importance of the imagination. The first gallery focuses on the church as a royal priesthood and examines scenes of the church’s worship. The second gallery looks at the church as a school of prophets and focuses on Christian witness. The third and final gallery visits scenes that dramatically test the church’s wisdom (44).

Vanhoozer suggests that these three galleries correspond to the three offices that characterized Israel’s life as holy nation and that apply the work of Christ. In other words, prophet, priest, and king. He then provides five unifying themes as we prepare to “view” these “scenes” (45-46):

  1. A common concern for the well-being and edification of the church
  2. A concern for what it means for the church to be biblical and for theology to be a species of biblical reasoning
  3. An assumption that the unity of the Bible is a function of the divine drama of redemption that it recounts, and of which it is an ingredient
  4. A concern to rehabilitate the evangelical imagination
  5. A common goal that doctrinal theology be eminently practical, ministering understanding and vision to head, heart and hand.

With all that in mind, the essays that follow are vintage Vanhoozer. Because most were originally oral addresses, they are fairly accessible, although as a writer, Vanhoozer is generally accessible anyway. Just consider it a bonus that these essays are stand alone and easily digestible, although still thought provoking and imagination stoking. As such, you can work though the book however you please, but I went through it chapter to chapter.

Considering both Vanhoozer’s importance, and the importance of the topics he continues to address, this book is worthy of your attention. Whether you’ve never read anything by him, or read everything by him, there is still something to gain from paying attention to his work here.


Kevin Vanhoozer, Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and WisdomDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, March 2016. 327 pp. Paperback, $20.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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Recently, IVP Academic has stepped up their series game. In the past they’ve released the Christian Worldview Integration series, Contours in Christian Theology, and several commentary series. They continue to publish titles in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, as well as the Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology series.

Now, they’ve added the Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture series, and thanks to their generosity, I’ve gotten the first two volumes. In brief, the series “promotes evangelical contributions to systematic theology, seeking fresh understanding of Christian doctrine through creatively faithful engagement with Scripture in dialogue with Catholic tradition(s)” (back insert).

The series will be edited by Daniel Treier and Kevin Vanhoozer, so it is only fitting that they coauthor the inaugural volume, Theology and The Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account. Like any book associated with Vanhoozer, you can see the allusion game is already strong in just the title. In the opening Unscientific Preface to Mere Evangelical Theology, the authors state “we do not pretend to give a universally compelling description of what evangelicals in fact profess and practice. Our intention is rather to offer a normative proposal of what evangelicals ought to profess and practice, if they would be truly evangelical – if they would correspond to the gospel that is according to the Scriptures” (11).

The book that follows offers readers an agenda (part 1) that explains the material and formal principles of evangelical theology (first two chapters, an leaning into Rorty’s mirror analogy). Then, the authors offer an analysis of what the practice of theology ought to look like (chapters 3-6). Here, we see theology is ultimately in search of wisdom, and that not surprisingly given the authors, this includes a good dose of theological exegesis. It also includes theology in a community and with high standards of excellence.

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The next volume published in this series is Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule by Jonathan Leeman. As he explains right off the bat in the preface,

This book has two main goals. The first is to replace the map of politics and religion that many Christians have been using since the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century with a more biblical one. The second is to explain where the local church fits onto this redrawn map as a political institution or embassy of Christ’s rule (13).

My prayer for this book is that it would give you, the reader, a better understanding of what the Bible says about church as well as how it describes the political map on which the church serves the purposes of Christ’s kingdom. And I pray that it might equip you in the work of building up your local congregation in holiness and love for Christ’s kingly purposes (17).

To accomplish all of this, Leeman starts with two basic questions: what is politics? (chapter 1) and what is an institution? (chapter 2).  Pretty straightforward, but it takes about 100 pages to answer these questions. But it accomplishes goal #1 so Leeman can spend the next four chapters devoted to goal #2. In successive chapters, he covers the politics of creation, fall, new covenant, and kingdom.

It is hard to imagine a more timely book with the upcoming election season upon us. If you are a bit more conversant with political theology than I am, you might want to check out this more in-depth review and response over at Mere Orthodoxy (part 1, part 2, response, questions, joint statement). You might want to just pick up a copy for yourself. Who’s to say?

In both of these cases though, you have solid evangelical contributions to Christian doctrine. As a general rule, if Vanhoozer had a hand in writing something, you probably want to grab it. And when he’s editing a series with Dan Treier, you better put it on your watch list. If you’re invested in the development of evangelical theology, you’re going to want to add both of these titles to your library.

You can see the publisher’s page for both here and here, and get a sneak peek at the newest volume that comes out later this year here.

 

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At this point, the year is almost halfway over, and I’m more than halfway through Tim Challies Reading Challenge. You can see how far I’ve come on Friday. As I’ve been reading, I’ve enjoyed getting out of my usual patterns. But, those patterns were well developed and it took a while for me to master the lay of the land in Christian publishing (that’s right, I said it). There are many great books, authors, and series out there that I imagine the average interested reader might not know about.

So, I thought it might help to create three more add-ons to Challies challenge. 3 because Trinity. Also, beginner, intermediate, advanced. The distinctions are partially related to content, but also length. As an example, Frame’s writings are not that hard to digest, but the books in his series listed are lengthy, to say the least. Also, you’ll notice a certain slant in the named authors. I guess you’ll have to live with my bias in choices. Or, you could make an alternative list and share it with me.

This could be an additional 33, or more realistically, it could be a way to overlap the available biblical and theological books already in Challies list. For instance, I list a few commentaries in here, and one of the items in Challies original list is a commentary on a book of the Bible. This gives you a more specific commentary series to choose from. Make sense?

Here’s the list:

THE BEGINNING THEOLOGICAL READER (11 BOOKS)

  • ☐ A book with hermeneutics in the title
  • ☐ A commentary in the TNTC series
  • ☐ A survey of historical theology
  • ☐ A commentary in The Bible Speaks Today series
  • ☐ A book in the Theologians on The Christian Life series
  • ☐ A New Testament introduction
  • ☐ A book by Eugene Peterson
  • ☐ A commentary in the TOTC series
  • ☐ A book in Zondervan’s Counterpoints series
  • ☐ A book by Tim Keller
  • ☐ An Old Testament introduction

THE INTERMEDIATE THEOLOGICAL READER (11 BOOKS)

  • ☐ A book by Kevin Vanhoozer
  • ☐ A volume in New Studies in Biblical Theology
  • ☐ A book in IVP’s Contours of Christian Theology
  • ☐ A book on covenant theology
  • ☐ A book on dispensational theology
  • ☐ A book on progressive covenantalism
  • ☐ A whole Bible biblical theology
  • ☐ A book by James K. A. Smith
  • ☐ A book in Baker’s Engaging Culture series
  • ☐ A book by Peter Leithart
  • ☐ A book by a Reformer not named Calvin or Luther

THE ADVANCED THEOLOGICAL READER (11 BOOKS)

  • ☐ A book by John Owen
  • ☐ A book in John Frame’s Theology of Lordship series
  • ☐ A systematic theology
  • ☐ A book by N. T. Wright
  • ☐ A book on Old Testament background
  • ☐ A book on New Testament background
  • ☐ A book by Bruce Waltke
  • ☐ A book by or about Karl Barth
  • ☐ A book using analytic theology
  • ☐ A book by a Dutch guy
  • ☐ An Oxford handbook on a theological topic