Theological Theology: Essays in Honour of John Webster

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As a general rule, I enjoying reading through, or at least collecting festschriften. If that’s a new word to you (and even if it’s not), I am speaking about a collection of essays presented to a scholar on some significant occasion. This might be a retirement, a special birthday, or a special conference. At any rate, they can often be a good introduction to that particular author’s interests, through the essays provided by their friends and former students.

Theological Theology is just this sort of book, and as the subtitle suggests, it is John Webster being honored (on his 60th birthday no less). Over Panera, Michael Allen called him the premier British theologian writing today (or something to that effect). This essay collection offers readers an overview of Webster’s life and work (the first two chapters), as well as essays from some of the more influential names in theology today.

In a single volume, you’ve got:

  • Stanley Hauerwas on the Holy Spirit
  • Robert Jenson offering some ‘riffs” on Aquinas
  • Matthew Levering’s adapted book chapter on the Gospel (from his book on the doctrine of revelation)
  • Lewis Ayres’ intriguing thoughts on Catholic biblical interpretation
  • Bruce McCormack reconsidering Barth’s critique of Schleiermacher
  • Kevin Vanhoozer on theological interpretation of Scripture
  • Rowan Williams on theology and the plurality of the gospel witness
  • Francis Watson questioning the existence of historical criticism

And those are just some highlights. As far as festschriften go, this one is pretty packed. If you’re into modern theology, you’ll love everything about this book. That is, everything except the price. At the moment, a hard copy of this book will run you close to $150. Had I not gotten a review copy, I certainly couldn’t have afforded to buy it.

However, it’s worth noting you don’t have to buy a book to benefit from it. If you’re currently a seminary student, you could definitely check this out and read a few essays over the weekend or as a way to procrastinate on other work. If you’re a college student really interested in theological studies, your university library will either have a copy or you can get one through inter-library loan. You can also wait it out, knowing that eventually a paperback version might be released that runs under $50.

At the end of the day, I found many of the essays enjoyable and intriguing. But, I don’t see anything in here worth $150. If you can justify spending that kind of money on a book of essays, you might have your priorities out of whack. I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy to satisfy my curiosity. But, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be that much worse off and my life is largely unchanged as a result of reading roughly half the essays in here. My mind was fed for a few afternoons and then life moved on.

Honestly, that’s the way it is with many books. You might spazz out about the latest and greatest new release from your favorite theologian/pastor/philosopher. But many of these books are kind of boring to read and largely inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. We largely overestimate the importance of the literary output in modern theological studies. We forget that most of what is being written and published will be forgotten before our lifetimes even end.


R. David Nelson, Darren Sarisky, and Justin Stratis, Eds., Theological Theology: Essays in Honour of John WebsterNew York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, August 2015. 384 pp. Hardcover, $146.00.

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Thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copy!

A Theology in Outline: Can These Bones Live?

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Have you ever wondered what it might be like to take an intro to theology class with Robert Jenson? To be honest the thought hadn’t crossed my mind before I requested a review copy of his latest book A Theology in Outline: Can These Bones Live? I was just curious about how it was as an introductory text. What it contains though are lightly edited transcripts from a class he taught at Princeton.

By “lightly edited,” I think we’re talking mainly about readability. At least that’s what I’m guessing when Jenson has a mild lapse and calls David the first king of Israel (21) and the transcript editor, Adam Eitel, left it in there. Beyond that, I didn’t pick up on any substantial issues. It is very conversational, because, well, it’s Jenson, or Jens as his friends apparently call him (19), just talking to you about theology.

Other than making my way through Scott Swain’s book, I don’t have much previous contact with Jenson (so I can’t really call him Jens). After reading this, I’m mildly curious to explore more. If that curiosity ramps up a bit, I can always use the exhaustive bibliography (117-134) to get me started. If you’re curious, this is probably a great place to start. It’s Jenson for beginners without being simplistic. He covers the nature of theology, the story of Israel and Jesus, the Trinity, creation, imago die, sin, salvation, and church. Not much in the way of eschatology, but you do get a chapter on the future of theology in a postmodern world.

This book could be comfortably read in a weekend, but you’d probably spend most of the next week pondering some of the many insights Jenson touches on. One that particularly struck me was his thoughts on Satan:

The existence of a tempter (i.e., Satan, the Devil, Lucifer, the Old Serpent, etc.) is an ongoing conviction not just of Christianity but also of Judaism. And this reflects more than anything else a common experience: there does seem to be somebody out there laughing at us. I was very skeptical about the existence of Satan until I made that observation. The disasters that happen could just be disasters, but we seem to be mocked by them. And that is the main title of Satan throughout the tradition; he is the Mocker, the one out there laughing at us. I do not imagine many of you will have run into C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters [note: he is talking to undergrads at Princeton. Sad right?]. That is the best satanology of the modern period (60).

Several things stick out here. One is that this has a ring of truth to it, when it comes to personal experience. The other is that it gives you an idea about Jenson’s thinking when it comes to the Old Testament (which you also get in an earlier chapter where he recounts Israel’s history). Lastly (though we could go on), here is premier theologian of the 20th/21st centuries recommending imaginative fiction as instructive for a subject in theology.

One final note, this is a smaller book than I anticipated. It also has small font, so the word count is not tremendously reduced. However, I was expecting a standard sized book. Not a huge deal, but serves a good reminder to check the product dimensions every now and then on Amazon. This is not quite “pocket size,” but it’s little. But, as you can see, it packs a punch on insights, and if you’re a student of theology, it’s worth checking out.


Robert W. Jenson, A Theology in Outline: Can These Bones Live? Transcribed, edited, and introduced by Adam Eitel. New York: Oxford University Press, April 2016. 152 pp. Hardcover, $27.95.

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Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and Reader

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I have long been perplexed by Karl Barth. I had only vague ideas about anything he said before going to seminary. There, I didn’t study anything he wrote directly, and unfortunately had mostly indirect contact through Cornelius Van Til. It took a few years to recover from that and then start to figure out what do to next.

On the one hand, I’d rather just ignore Barth. He’s notoriously difficult to understand, but unlike Van Til, he has more than a few interpreters willing to help you out. He is probably the most influential and/or important 20th century theologian. Yet, he has had an uneasy relationship with evangelicals. As a case in point, Crossway’s Theologians on The Christian Life series features three 20th century theologians, one of whom is still living and none of whom are named Karl Barth. When one thinks of solid evangelical Reformed theology, most non-scholars don’t really think of Barth.

On the other hand, I’d like to get a better handle on what’s useful and insightful from Barth. However, I don’t want to pull a Brandon Smith and read the entire 8000+ page Church Dogmatics in a year (or more). One might hope Derek Rishmawy would do a read and blog through like he did for Bavinck, but Ph.D studies are probably too time consuming. Beyond that, it could be hard to know where to start with Barth, mainly because there are so many options (Hunsinger’s How to Read Karl Barth is waiting on my shelf)

The best bet I think at this point is to pick up Michael Allen’s Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and Reader. You probably knew I was going to say that because the picture of the book is at the top of this blog post. I’ve been able to grab coffee with Dr. Allen several times since he came to RTS Orlando and he is exactly the kind of person you’d want to explain Barth to you.

However, that’s not exactly what’s going on here. In this volume, Allen provides readers with key passages from the Church Dogmatics. Before each, Allen offers a few paragraphs of introduction and orientation and a short bibliography of further reading. In the excerpts themselves, he offers explanatory footnotes to give insight along the way. The result is an entry point into Barth’s Dogmatics that allows you to get the feel of Barth’s thought and style. If you have the Dogmatics in full you could look up the excerpts and read before and after for further context. Or, you could just read straight through Allen’s volume and then check out something like Hunsinger before trying to tackle the Dogmatics in full.

I found my own read thru to be helpful. I’ve started and stopped CD I.1 several times, and maybe one day I’ll get through them all. In the mean time, I benefited from the readings that Allen offers and would highly recommend this volume as the place to start if you want to wrestle with Barth.


R. Michael Allen, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and ReaderNew York: T&T Clark International, May 2012. 256 pp. Paperback, $39.95.

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Word and Church and Confessing God Back in Print

In terms of modern theology, it is hard to name a more influential theologian than John Webster. I tend to find theologians named John both helpful and formative, so I’ve been trying to dip into John Webster’s catalog of writings. That had been difficult until just recently. While I could get my hands on Holiness and Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, other titles were on the pricey side and the cheaper collection of essays in the bunch were out of print. Now they’ve been reissued by Bloomsbury T&T Clark as part of the Cornerstones series. For under $30 you can now get both Word and Church and Confessing God.

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Word and Church is divided into three sections of essays. They are Scripture, Christ and the Church, and Ethics. Of interest in the first section is Webster’s thoughts on reading Scripture, using the example of Barth and Bonhoeffer, and his exploration of how hermeneutics function in modern theology. The lead essay in the second section is on the Incarnation, while he introduces the final section with a discussion of God and conscience. Given the flow of thought, these essays follow the contours of a mini-systematic.

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Confessing God is similar in having a tri-fold structure, but here the overall focus is more on the nature of theology. The sections are Theology, Dogmatics, and Church and Christian Life. Included in this collection is Webster’s essay Theological Theology, which is the title of the recently published festschrift in his honor. Also included are essays on the clarity of Scripture, confessions, holiness, and hope, to name a few topics.

I would say given the scope of Webster’s writings, these collections might be a good place to start if you’re interested in his thought. I’d probably recommend the second collection, since it covers themes that can be explored in more detail through the monographs I mentioned above. Bloomsbury T&T Clark was kind enough to send me PDF’s of both sets and while I would have loved physical copies, I was still able to browse enough to say these are worth picking up. While Webster is an academic theologian, he has a clarity of writing and thought that is worth paying close attention to. It might take a bit of effort to enter into the realm of the discussion, but once you’re there, you should be able to follow him further up and further in.

3 Books on The Trinity (Of Course)

On of my abiding reading interests is books on the Trinity. Ever since I took Trinitarianism as a course at Dallas, I keep coming back to try to understand the biblical teaching on God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Recently, I finished three (of course) new volumes that each engage in theological exegesis to some extent. They are rooted in a close reading of the New Testament, but for the purpose of enhancing our understanding of doctrine. Each contributes to the advance in understanding in significant ways.

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Matthew Bates’ monograph The Birth of The Trinity: Jesus, God, and Spirit in New Testament & Early Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament was until recently cost-prohibitive. Thanks to Oxford University Press, I got my copy for free. You can now get the hardcover for just over $40 on Amazon and you can pre-order the paperback edition for less than $25. I say that because were this a $90 book, I imagine that most of you reading this would pass regardless of what I tell you about it.

While not a long book (just over 200 pp), it will surely be significant. It is a book for “general readers of theology, history, and religion, as well as professional scholars and students.” The argument of the book, as Bates explains, is that “a specific reading technique, best termed prosopological exegesis, that is evidenced in the New Testament and other early Christian writings was irreducibly essential to the birth of the Trinity.” He goes on to say that, so far as he knows, no one has “ever systematically explored Trinitarian inner dynamics of Christology  in the New Testament and second-century Christianity from this angle” (2).

At this point, you are probably wondering two things: (1) what is prosopological exegesis and (2) what does Bates mean by “birth of the Trinity”? To the latter, Bates means “the arrival and initial sociolinguistic framing of this doctrine in human history by the nascent church” (4). To the former, Bates spends the better part of the opening chapter explaining the nature of prosopological exegesis. It is borrowing from a Greek theater called “prosopopoeia” (“character-making”) to then read the Old Testament theodramtically. While many people acknowledge Paul’s use of prosopopoeia, Bates’ significant contribution is to argue that latter part about how New Testament authors read the Old Testament.

As such, this study not only studies the development of Trinitarian doctrine, but uncovers a hermenuetical practice through the study of the New Testament’s use and reading of the Old. Like a good extended argument that is worth your time, it can’t be neatly summarized in a short post like this. Rather, I would encourage anyone seriously interested in the study of the Trinity or New Testament interpretation (or both) to get a hold of this volume. It might need to wait until the more accessible paperback is available, but the dip in hardcover price certainly helps.

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The next book worth noting is Wesley Hill’s Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters. I received this one thanks to Eerdmans and it was the first book I finished in this new year. It is similar to Bates in that it overlaps study of Trinitarian doctrine and New Testament interpretation. However, Hill is focused closely on Paul (you might have known that from the title) and restructuring the understanding of Jesus’ divinity in relational terms rather than the typical “low” or “high” polarities. Ultimately Hill’s study is more Christological focused throughout as we seeks to construe our understanding of Jesus in terms of his relation to the Father, not necessarily how high or low he is on the vertical axis toward divinity.

The opening chapter charts the general lay of the land, both in terms of Pauline Christologies and Trinitarian theologies. Since Hill’s work intersects the two, this makes perfect sense. He is writing to theologians and exegetes, and that is no easy task. But, Hill shows he is grounded in both worlds before his study proceeds. As a caveat, he concludes the first chapter saying “Although my argument is largely aimed at the guild of biblical and Pauline interpreters, the conviction underlying the argument – and, it is hoped vindicated (in part) by the argument – is that theology and exegesis are, or ought to be, mutually dependent” (46-47).

In chapter 2, Hill looks first at God in relation to Jesus, particularly focusing on Romans 4:24; 8:11, and Galatians 1:1. In the following two chapters, Hill turns to Jesus in relation to God. The first focuses primarily on Philippians 2:6-11, the second on 1 Corinthians 8:6, and 15:24-28. The final chapter turns to the Spirit in relation to God and Jesus, looking closely at 1 Corinthians 12:3, Galatians 4:4-7, 2 Corinthians 3:17, Romans 1:3-4, and 8:11 among others.

In his conclusions Hill, referring to other interpretive efforts argues that,

Instead of starting with God and attempting to fit Jesus and the Spirit in alongside or underneath him somewhere on an axis of nearness, it is better – these interpreters have posited – to see neither God, Jesus, nor the Spirit as enjoying primacy on their own but to see them as all equally primal, mutually determinative, relationally constitued (168).

Hill suggests this was the “perspective of the mainstream of mature fourth century (and later) trinitarian doctrine” (169). His work as a whole seeks to defend this approach, while also showing that “exegesis of Paul does not reach its full potential without trinitarian theology” and “trinitarian theology is impoverished if it neglects biblical exegesis in general and exegesis of Paul in particular” (171). He concludes by saying that “Theology and the reading of Scripture belong together. And that belonging is both a description of the history of Pauline and trinitarian studies and a summons to practice those disciplines in a renewed form today” (172). If that is something that intrigues you, or something you are already pursuing, then you need to grab a copy of Hill’s book sooner rather than later.

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Lastly, Rodrick Durst’s Reordering The Trinity: Six Movements of God in The New Testament is worth checking out. Durst argues that we should pay closer attention to the “ordering” of the persons of God when they are mentioned together in the New Testament. There are, obviously six potential combinations:

  • Father-Son-Spirit (18x)
  • Son-Spirit-Father (11x)
  • Son-Father-Spirit (15x)
  • Spirit-Father-Son (14x)
  • Father-Spirit-Son (9x)
  • Spirit-Son-Father (8x)

Each of these orders gets its own chapter of exposition where Durst looks at each occurrence briefly. Before getting to those chapters, there are 4 chapters of background dealing with the status of Trinitarian doctrine in modern theology, basic issues in New Testament interpretation as it relates to the Trinity, triadic presences in the Old Testament, and the traditional development of Trinitarian doctrine.

When it comes to unpacking the orders, Durst sees a theological significance to each:

  • Missional sending
  • Formational shaping
  • Evangelical saving
  • Christological indwelling
  • Liturgical standing
  • Ecclesial uniting

In other words, Durst suggests and argues that the order of the divine persons relates to the function the particular New Testament author is highlighting. He supports this with exposition, numerous charts and diagrams, and concludes with the practical significance this might have for one’s prayer life or preaching.

I found the argument intriguing, and I think well-defended. The strongest counter-argument might be that there is not the level of intentionality on the NT author’s part that Durst suggests. However, he has gone to great lengths to demonstrate the patterning, and if one believes in an over-arching divine author, it’s not really that much of a stretch. Instead, it is a practical strategy for reading the New Testament more closely so that you come to understand the Triune God better.

Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions

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Everyone who reads a good bit has favorite authors. When another author uses many of your favorite authors in writing their book, it usually catches your attention. That was my experience in reading through Daniel Strange’s Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions. I made most of my way through it back in the fall while I was teaching a section on world religions in my senior Bible class (senior as in 12th graders). I was delighted to see numerous uses of Reformed authors like Van Til, Frame, and Bavinck (although often a different Bavinck than Herman). Even Greg Bahnsen makes several appearances (although mostly because of his book on Van Til). What this means is that Strange is writing a theology of world religions that is relying heavily on insights from presuppositional apologetics, and for that we should be glad.

After an autobiographical prologue that helps set the context for Strange’s study, his opening chapter lays out the task of explaining the religious Other from a Christian worldview. Here he gives the theology of religions that he will defend:

From the presupposition of an epistemologically authoritative biblical revelation, non-Christian religions are sovereignly directed, variegated and dynamic, collective human idolatrous responses to divine revelation behind which stand deceiving demonic forces. Being antithetically against yet parasitically dependent upon the truth of the Christian worldview, non-Christian religions are ‘subversively fulfilled’ in the gospel of Jesus Christ (42).

This dense statement gives the rough outline of the book that follows. Chapter 2 lays out the case for man as homo adorans. Moving from the foundation of the creature Creator distinction in Genesis, Strange works out a theology of man inherently religious. This then leads to a chapter on how people respond to the “remnantal” revelation available because of God’s common grace. The following chapter picks up the story of Babel and shows its importance for religious diversity. From here, Strange offers a theology of religions from the rest of the Old Testament in chapter 5 and then does the same for the New in chapter 6. The next chapter details Strange’s understanding of “subversive fulfillment” in order to then lay out some missiological implications in the following chapter. The final chapter offers pastoral perspective and insight in light of the preceding study.

This book is a significant contribution to understanding and explaining world religions from a Reformed perspective. It is a resource I will return to and utilize in my own study. I found some of the material too academic for high school introductions, but I used some of the main ideas (everyone knows there is a God and everyone worships). If I had more time to ruminate, I would have liked to trace out how Buddhism and Hinduism are subversively fulfilled by the gospel. Strange applies his insight to Islam and that makes this book all the more valuable in the current cultural situation.

A downside I found is that the book is perhaps longer than it needed to be. Part of this is the thoroughness of Strange’s argument (which I suppose is not a bad thing). The other part is excessive and lengthy block quotes. The tend to clutter the text and make it harder to follow the argument. In many cases it was easier to visually skip over the block quote and read Strange’s concluding summary sentence that lead into the next paragraph. This is mainly a stylistic consideration though, and shouldn’t detract from the overall value of the resource. An upside would be that Strange provides many extended excerpts from his primary sources. A downside is that his thoughts can get lost in the shuffle at times.

In the end, I would highly recommend this book if you are interested in apologetics in general and world religions in particular. I had thought this before reading, but now I have a good argument that the resources from Reformed writers like Van Til, Frame, and Bavinck (Herman and J. H.) provide the best explanation for world religions. If you can get through the block quotes, this is a resource you’ll want to spend some time working through.


Daniel Strange, Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, February, 2015. 384 pp. Paperback, $24.99.

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Sanctified By Grace: A Theology of The Christian Life

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On Monday, I mentioned a new review series I planned to start. While this book is not part of that series, it covers a very similar terrain. Edited by Kent Eilers and Kyle Strobel, Sanctified By Grace: A Theology of The Christian Life is a collection of essays articulating the Christian life “in dogmatic key” (3). If we play with the musical metaphor, the idea is that one could compose the melody of the Christian life in a variety of key signatures, but this work does so using the resources of Christian dogmatics. I’m sitting here trying  to think of what other “keys” one might use, but am drawing a blank. I think we need to tweak the metaphor a bit so that it works better.

“Modes” is a better option, but transposition doesn’t work as well. A song in C major won’t sound drastically different if played in D major (unless you have perfect pitch). A song in C Ionian (major) will sound much different than a song in C Dorian, but that is a modality shift rather than a key signature change. Technically, it appears as a key signature change on the score, but the tonal center that emerges in the song would lead you to figure out the mode employed. The difference between C Ionian and C Dorian is not the tonal center, but the steps between the degrees of the scale used.

If we take the idea of tonal center and connect that with the Christian life, we would say the tonal center is “communion with the triune God through union with Christ in the Spirit” (3). Building out from the tonal center and utilizing all the richness of the tones in the key signature is what the authors seem to envision doing. In that sense, the better description is an account of the Christian life that explores the full scale of notes and harmonic richness from Christian dogmatics. Different doctrinal connection points represent different tones within a scale. Many accounts of the Christian life stick close to a single tonal center, perhaps only deviating to the octave or interval of a 5th above, giving minimal melodic or harmonic variation. Here, the full range of tones and harmonies are brought into play, weaving together a more interesting melodic result.

With that metaphor in mind, here’s how the authors describe (not metaphorically) what their aim is:

While the primary reference of “the Christian life” is the lived experience of Christian identity, as a doctrinal locus it stands dogmatically related to other areas of Christian witness such as the doctrines of the Trinity, creation and providence, Christ, the church and the final consummation (to name a few). Being so related, the doctrine of the Christian life is informed and illumined by a whole series of theological claims about God, such as his relation to created reality, his reconciling works and the human activities which arise from them. In turn, those other doctrines are likewise informed and illumined through the doctrine of the Christian life. Our approach thus articulates a theology of the Christian life in terms of the whole of the Christian confession rather than just one dimension (3).

Ultimately, they suggest that this volume provides “a theology of the Christian life oriented around the triune God of grace” (6). This is seen in the outline which breaks out into four parts. The first, “The Gracious One” has essays on the triune God (Fred Sanders), the electing God (Suzanne McDonald), the creating and providential God (Katherine Sonderegger), the saving God (Ian McFarland), and the perfecting God (Christopher R. J. Holmes). Part Two, “The Graces of The Christian Life,” covers reconciliation and justification (John Burgess), redemption (Christiaan Mostert), and mortification and vivification (John Webster). Part Three, “The Means of Grace” provides a pair of essays on Scripture (Donald Wood) and church and sacraments (Tom Greggs). The final part, “The Practices of Grace” focuses on discipleship (Philip Ziegler), prayer (Ashley Cocksworth), theology (Ellen T. Charry), preaching (William Willimon), and forgiveness (D. Stephen Long).

While in some sense that gives you an idea of what the topics and writers include, in another sense, it doesn’t quite give you a feel for the book. To help with that, I entered into a technical discussion about music theory just a few paragraphs ago. If you already understand music theory fairly well, you could probably connect the dots. If not, it might have been harder to follow what I was explaining. In a similar way, the more familiar you are with Barth and other major figures of 20th century theology, the more comfortable you’ll be with the dogmatic expositions in this more or less academic theological work. If you have a finger on the pulse of recent theological movements, you’ll follow the discussions fairly well.

I had originally gotten this work for myself out of interest, and abandoned reading halfway through. I was later contacted to participate in a blog tour, and so I resumed and finished the remaining essays. I’m glad I pushed through to get to the ones by Webster and Willimon which I found particularly insightful. Closely behind were the ones on theology and prayer. While the essay on discipleship provides an interesting theological meditation on the topic, it is not particularly helpful if you’re interested in how to actual disciple someone. Granted, that’s not the focus of the essay (or the work as a whole), but it is perhaps a bit ironic.

This further illustrates the kind of book under consideration. This is not a book of practical theology, at least in the typical evangelical sense. It is a book of academic and dogmatic theological reflection on topics connected to the Christian life. The price probably prohibits it from consideration by the average reader and the content makes it something I couldn’t recommend to anyone in my church (which tells you both about my church and the book). However, it could be of particular use in a classroom setting, but most likely only for upper-level undergrad or introductory level seminary courses. With the opportunity to discuss further in that setting, this book could be more useful, but only if the class itself has the facility in modern theology that enables a clearer reading.

That being said, I do like what Eilers and Strobel were aiming at in their goals for the book. I don’t think that all of the essays necessarily hit the mark (although Sanders sure did). I would be particularly interested in a more user friendly version of a book like for people like me involved in the discipleship and equipping of a local body of believers. I’m not entirely sure what that would look like and don’t particularly fault Eilers and Strobel for not producing that volume. This book sets the tone at least for books like that could follow (and I mean that in the sense of the musical metaphor from above) and I will look forward to that eventual composition.


Kent Eilers & Kyle Strobel, eds., Sanctified By Grace: A Theology of The Christian LifeNew York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, August 2014. 288 pp. Paperback, $39.99.

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Theologians on The Christian Life Review Series

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Thanks to the generosity of Crossway, I will be posting reviews of the Theologians on The Christian Life series over the next several months. I have one more to finish reading, but since I just recently finished Augustine on The Christian Life, I’m ready to get started.

Recently, I’ve wanted to refocus my attention on the basic of living the Christian life. Some of that is because of teaching commitments (at school and soon at church). Some of that is because of just feeling rusty myself in terms of basic spiritual disciplines. Another part of it is my fairly longstanding interest in the relationship of good works to the life of faith in Christ. When you add all these together, it should make for a good spring series.

I thought it might be interesting to do the series chronologically by theologian rather than book release date. This particularly series unfortunately only has Augustine before the Reformation, but given some of Bray’s comments, it is probably a justified choice (more on that in the actual review). There are more 20th century theologians than I think any other single century. Also, were it not for Wesley, it would be a fairly monochrome sample of Reformed authors (the Germans being mild outliers).

Regardless, in this stack you have some of the most influential Christian theologians and their thoughts on the Christian life. I thought it might be interesting to move through them in a way that gives a brief overview of each book, notes which ones are stronger contributions than others, and over time, note what themes are held in common by each of these writers. With only one title left to read (Bonhoeffer), I have a pretty good idea what these themes might look like, but it will be clearly as I actually start writing the reviews. By next week, I’ll hopefully have Augustine ready to go and then we’ll see how it goes from there!

Old Books of Note: New Studies in Biblical Theology Edition

Thanks to the generosity of IVP Academic, I recently got not only several new releases, but a few old ones as well. Four of those are in the outstanding New Studies in Biblical Theology series.

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First, I requested Peter Adam’s Hearing God’s Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality, forgetting I already had that in my collection (read the sample here). You can tell the subject from the subtitle, however Adam unfolds it in a way that is not strictly biblical theology. The opening chapter nails down the shape and structure of biblical spirituality, the gist of which you can discern from the book’s title. Chapters 2 and 3 then trace this theme through the Old and New Testaments respectively. Chapter 4 then focuses on a key historical figure, in this case Calvin, and what can learned from his take on the subject. Chapter 5 looks at issues in the study of spirituality and the final chapter offers examples, drawing on the Puritans and in particular Richard Baxter. Like most volumes in this series, this is worth your time, especially if you’re interested in digging into the basis of Christian spirituality.

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Next, I was able to read Mark D. Thompson’s A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture (read a sample here). Unlike many other titles in this series, this volume is more historical and/or systematic theology than biblical theology. The clarity of Scripture is a fairly hot button contemporary issue, so it’s still worth checking out. The opening chapter sets the issue in context. Chapter 2 presents God as the foundation of Scripture’s clarity. From here, Thompson turns to the phenomena of Scripture itself in chapter 3, which does a fair share of biblical theology. Chapter 4 then turns to the hermeneutical challenge. In other words, if we claim Scripture is clear, why are there so many interpretations? Thompson then closes with a chapter that takes some of his doctoral work on Luther’s doctrine of Scripture to help us better explain the clarity of Scripture today. While certainly not definitive, this is still a valuable resource on the topic, showing that there is precedent for the clarity of Scripture in Scripture’s own teaching and in the history of the church’s witness.

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Shortly before Christmas, I read through Paul W. Barnett’s Jesus and The Logic of History (read a sample here). This is one of the earliest volumes in the series and as a byproduct, the typesetting is not easy on the eyes. However, in a culture that questions the historical existence of Jesus, this is a handy volume to pick up. Barnett’s opening chapter talks briefly of historiography how to approach the evidence for Jesus’ existence. The second chapter establishes a link between the historical Jesus and the proclaimed Christ of faith. The next chapter surveys the New Testament letters’ proclamations about Jesus. Chapter 4 looks at Jesus in historical context, primarily in relationship to Herod. From here, Barnett looks at the Gospels as historical records. Chapter 6 moves to the early Christian movement and its relationship to Jesus. Chapter 7 is perhaps the longest and is somewhat summarizing of the ground covered so far. Here, Barnett ties all the previous threads together, solidifying his case for the historical Jesus. Chapter 8 and the conclusion are a combined 6 pages, so this is the pinnacle of the argument more or less. While this volume is one of the shorter in the series, I found it very profitable to read and post a bit more about in the coming days.

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Lastly, while I up in Tennessee I finished Andreas Köstenberger and Scott Swain’s Father, Son, and Spirit (read a sample here). I would say of the volumes I’ve mentioned, this one is the most in-line with what you’d expect from a series called New Studies in Biblical Theology. And the two subjects, the Trinity and the Gospel of John, make it worth your time. The first part of the book, which is just one chapter, establishes the historical context for John’s gospel within Jewish monotheism. The second part is in-depth biblical reflections on the Scriptural data of John’s Gospel. The chapters focus on God, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in turn. Each chapter covers a similar outline, starting with an introduction and then looking at the relevant passages in the prologue, the Book of Signs (1-12), and the Book of Glory (13-21). The chapter on the Son deviates from this slightly. A short concluding chapter synthesizes the findings.

The third and final part of the book then turns to theological reflections. Chapter 7 is Christological, examining Jesus’ identity as Son in the Gospel. Chapter 8 is pneumatological, exploring the relationship of the Spirit to Christ and believers. Chapter 9 is Trinitarian, unpacking the one divine mission of Father, Son, and Spirit. The final chapter looks in detail at John 17 (the high priestly prayer) and the link between the immanent and economic Trinity.

Given all that, this is definitely a volume for your library if you want to study either the Gospel of John or the doctrine of the Trinity more deeply. Having an author that is a biblical scholar (Köstenberger) working alongside a theologian (Swain) makes for a good combination. I would like to see more volumes in this series try something similar (Köstenberger co-authored another volume, but with Peter O’Brien, another biblical scholar). The tag-teaming I think works well, as does the resulting organization of the material. I know Swain has been co-authoring up a storm with Michael Allen, so maybe there’s another volume like this in the works on the horizon. I guess I could always ask!

#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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!