Friday, May 23, 2008

Book Review: A Theology for the Church

Theology textbooks are not in short supply these days, and while many of them are profitable for various reasons, they tend to be unhelpful to the average Christian sitting in the pew trying to figure out how to do the Christian life. Yet Southern Baptist seminary president Dr. Daniel Akin has brought a new systematic theology to the table that aims not at scholars classroom, but the Sunday School classroom. The book, A Theology for the Church, brings together a number of SBC scholars who contribute chapters to the work. In this review I will outline the focus of the book, its strengths and contributions to the church, and the weaknesses that hinder the work.

The book is unique on a number of fronts. First and foremost, it is not a systematic theology limited to the viewpoint of simply one author. Fourteen different authors bring their viewpoints to each topic outlined. While the book follows the traditional model of studying systematic theology (i.e. beginning with the doctrine of revelation and concluding with the last things), it approaches each subject with four main questions in view: 1. what does the Bible say; 2. what has the church believed; 3. how do the doctrines fit together; 4. how does each doctrine impact the church today. While each author has the liberty to approach their chapter with their own style and argumentation, all keep within these parameters.

The strengths of this book are numerous, so I will limit myself to mentioning three specific benefits to this book. Standing out above all is the careful balance each writer keeps between instruction and application. While all the contributors are world-class scholars, they are careful to write at a level accessible to the average reader. They deal mainly with the biblical texts as well as interacting with church history, but always in an engaging fashion. Yet the book makes a point in every chapter to show how the doctrine applies to the 21st century church. Akin writes in the Preface, "We believe it is crucial to wed doctrine and life - to recognize the unity of faith and practice" (vii). A great example of this is found in Russell Moore's chapter entitled "Personal and Cosmic Eschatology." After detailing the various biblical truths of the end times and showing the history of thought that has created so many different approaches to the topic, he explains how believers today can deal with issues such as grief, fear of death, burial, forgiveness and even parenting in light of what the Bible teaches about the end times. This is, in my estimation, a tremendous value to any reader who wants to understand how the Bible speaks to life. A second strength is how each chapter seeks to show the unity and coherency of all Scripture. Each contributor sees the Bible pointing to one grand narrative and devote space to showing how these doctrines point to the truth of God and our ability to know God through a relationship with Jesus. The last strength I will mention is more about my own preference. I found it immensely helpful that this book devoted an entire chapter to the doctrine of Angels. Most theology textbooks, if they mention Angels at all, do not flesh out the biblical doctrine. Yet this book spends almost fifty pages unpacking the subject in a very helpful way.

My critiques of this work are going to be picky and weak, simply because this book has been well written. One complaint I have is how some authors did not seem best suited for the topic they were assigned. Paige Patterson is a brilliant man and deserves to be included in this book; however his chapter on the Work of Christ was not up to par with the others. I found his discussion of the history of the doctrine to be thin, which left out many crucial movements. His discussion on the extent of the atonement did not engage his opponents adequately and even caricaturized those like R.C. Sproul and John Owen. Another example is Albert Mohler writing a short concluding article titled "The Pastor as Theologian." While helpful, he would have been better suited feeding us in a chapter on the doctrine of God.

All in all, I highly recommend this book to you. While I think Packer and Grudem have written smaller, more accessible volumes for group studies, this book could be used as a supplement or in a condensed form for those seeking to understand a Southern Baptist approach to systematic theology.

No comments: