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A Theology Big Enough for the Gospel: Reviewing Mike Bird’s Evangelical Theology

Writing a one-volume survey of Christian theology is a daunting, some might say insane, challenge. How exactly do you go about saying all that is important about the triune God, humanity, salvation, the church, eschatology, and everything else, in a single book? Good luck with that.

And along the way you have to make decisions about what topics to cover, how much time to spend on them, and what positions to take, with each decision likely to anger, or at least annoy, someone.

Evangelical-TheologyDoesn’t that sound like fun?

Yet every generation needs people willing to rise up and respond to the challenge. Theology is not a task to be done once, something already accomplished by theological giants like Augustine and Calvin. Theology is always an ongoing process of thinking through what we must believe and say today, a calling that no prior generation can fulfill for us. It is ours alone.

And although some will engage that task by engaging smaller portions of doctrine, digging deeply into issues like Christology, anthropology, or ecclesiology, we will always need those willing to present the whole scope of Christian doctrine for the church today. And that is precisely what Michael Bird sets out to do in Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Zondervan, 2013)I have already commented on some aspects of Bird’s project, and I’ll include links to those posts below. But now I’d like to comment on the book as a whole. You’ll have to bear with me, though. Systematic theology books are long and complex. So this review is a tad wordier than usual.

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Flotsam and jetsam (1/15)

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Good Reads

  • Religious Hostilities Reach Six-Year High: more than 5.3 billion people (76% of the world’s population) live in countries with a high or very high level of restrictions on religion, up from 74% in 2011 and 68% as of mid-2007. (Pew Forum)
  • A Few Good Men, Not a Few Good Yes Men: it is encouraging as a minister to know that I have good men who are watching my life and doctrine closely so that the church will be edified and not led astray.  What minister who knows his own heart would trust himself to lead a congregation on his own and according to his own wisdom? (Carl Trueman)

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Just for Fun

  • Apparently sharks are sneakier than I realized. Clever girl.

My Interview on Blogging, Evangelicalism, and Pentecostalism

Luke Geraty, who blogs over at ThinkTheology, recently asked me a series of questions about my experience blogging as an academic, what I think about evangelicalism today, and the pentecostal/charismatic movement. I think he’d originally planned for it to be a single post, but he failed to account for my long-windedness-osity. So he has posted it as a 3-part series instead. Here they are:

Many thanks to Luke for putting this together. So head over there and let him know what you think of the interview.

Flotsam and jetsam (1/13)

Because every day should start with a monkey riding a dog chasing a goat.

Because every day should start with a monkey riding a dog chasing a goat.

Good Reads

  • The Invisible Anglicanism of CS Lewis: If you spend any length of time interacting with contemporary writing about CS Lewis, you’ll discover one thing almost instantly: Lewis has become a theological Rorshach test for his readers. – See more at. (Mere Orthodoxy)
  • Finding a Place to Ask the Tough Questions: I think that the faith of my childhood, that faith that was neatly encapsulated in a two-sentence sinner’s prayer prayed at an exact time and place that instantaneously and transactionally changed me into someone who never has doubts again, has not held true in my own experience. On this journey of looking for God I’ve experienced instead: tentative hope, dark doubt, bright epiphanies, and even some days when I don’t know if I believe in God anymore. (Amy Butler)
  • One of the Most Significant Days in Church History: Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday: without the birth of Muhammad there would be no Islam. And, at this point in history, Islam represents one of the most significant religious challenges to the claims of Christianity. Not since Christianity’s earliest encounters with Judaism have Christians faced a religious and cultural identity as tight as Islam. (Gospel Coalition)
  • Read the Bible Like a Texan, Y’all: We might not like it or understand it, but apparently the Church is God’s plan to mediate his power and presence to the world.  Frankly, it’s remarkable that Paul is so confident about this truth as he writes specifically to the Corinthian church.  The church in Corinth was “Church-Gone-Wild XXX”  – they were immersed in factions, debauchery, and sexual immorality.  Yet, warts and all, their community was where God had chosen to dwell in a powerful and immediate way. (Cataclysmic)

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More Saturday Morning Fun…Broswers!

web browsers

HT Mark Goodacre via Facebook

Saturday Morning Fun…It Could Have Been Worse

The Norwegian Association for the Blind put together this funny PSA trying to get people to be more open to having guide dogs accompany blind people in public places. After, it could be much worse.

Flotsam and jetsam (1/10)

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Good Reads

  • 14 Hopes for 2014: I commit to shut down murmuring and cynicism and gossip and slander and all forms of passive aggression (even on the blogosphere!) – and to exorcise the demons of negativity.  St. Benedict said that speaking negatively about people (even with well-warranted reasons) is “poison”, and it rots away the foundation of community.  In its place I hope to practice honest confrontation when hurt or offended and encourage others to do the same. (Shane Clairborne)
  • A Splash of Sanctity: It is one of the most eye-catching and resonant moments in the calendar of the Christian east. On January 6th (or January 19th if you are observing the old calendar) the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river is ritually commemorated when a priest or bishop casts a cross into the nearest available stretch of water. (The Economist)
  • What’s Ahead for Education in 2014: The last several years in education have been filled with turmoil: cheating scandals, debates and protests over curriculum and testing, big changes in the way students are taught. The new year offers brings more changes—but also an opportunity to find solutions to old problems and reach common ground on the divisions of the past. (The Atlantic)
  • Hollywood Declares 2014 the Year of the Bible: Russell Crowe is Noah. Christian Bale is Moses. Brad Pitt is Pontius Pilate. With pages of action and a faithful fanbase, Hollywood is mining the good book for blockbuster stories. (Daily Beast)

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Why Study Theological Anthropology?

Woman holding paper with drawed question marks in front of her headWhen I first tell people that I study theological anthropology, they’re immediately fascinated, and they ask all kinds of interesting questions: What Amazonian tribes have I visited? What archeological digs have I gone on? What social experiments have I performed? Good stuff. And then I get to explain that they’re actually talking about cultural anthropology, archeology, and/or sociology. Theological anthropology is about exploring theological perspectives on what it means to be human.

The interest dries up pretty quickly after that.

As far as I can tell, there seem to be three reasons that, for the average Christian, studying theological anthropology just doesn’t sound terribly interesting.

  • They think they already know what it means to be human. Why waste your time studying something you already understand? And people think they have a pretty good handle on what it means to be human. After all, they are one.
  • They don’t think theology has much to offer. Of course, people know full well that humans are rather complex creatures. That’s why they’re initially fascinated when they think I’m talking about cultural anthropology or biology. Studying how humans differ in varying cultures or the complex physical and biological realities that comprise the human body, those seem like they’d have a lot to offer for understanding human persons. But theology? Not so much.
  • They don’t think it matters for everyday life. Even if they’re curious enough to ask about some of the specific topics that theological anthropology addresses (e.g. the body/soul relationship, free will, gender/sexuality, etc.), it’s not immediately evident that such things have any real practical value for everyday life and ministry. They sound like things that people have been debating for millennia with no resolution, and, consequently, things that might be worth discussing over a cup of coffee, but not things with any real pressing relevance.

Obviously either I disagree or I enjoy spending my time on things that don’t really matter. And since life is short enough that I prefer not to do the latter, it’s probably the former. So let me explain.

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Flotsam and jetsam (1/8)

cartoon paradox

Good Reads

  • The Absurdity of Christian “Obsession” with Abortion and Single-Issue Voting: Let me put it this way: nobody today would say that MLK Jr. was wrong for fixating on race and equality issues. Nor would anybody today complain about abolitionists’ single-minded obsession with slavery. I shudder to think what future generations will think when they look at Christians today and their lack of horror at the tragedy of abortion in America. (Reformedish)
  • 3 biggest reasons why Bible reading is down: Apparently, Bible reading is way down in churches, and Biblica has dug into finding out why. Here’s what I learned at the conference I attended last week sponsored by Biblica. (Peter Enns)
  • The Confidence of Jerry Coyne: One of the problems with belonging to a faction that’s convinced it’s on the winning side of intellectual history is that it becomes easy to persuade oneself that one’s own worldview has no weak points whatsoever, no internal contradictions or ragged edges, no cracks through which a critic’s wedge could end up driven. (Ross Douthat)
  • Is Recreational Marijuana Use a Sin? Although many Christians consider the answer to the question to be rather straightforward, it can be helpful to examine the reasoning process that allows us to determine how biblical principles can be applied to this issue. (Gospel Coalition)

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Temper Your Orthodoxy with Charity

“Men may differ from each other in many religious opinions, and yet all may retain the essentials of Christianity; men may sometimes eagerly dispute, and yet not differ much from one another: the rigorous prosecutors of error should, therefore, enlighten their zeal with knowledge, and temper their orthodoxy with charity; that charity without which orthodoxy is vain.”

Samuel Johnson, The Works of Samuel Johnson (New York: Collins and Hannay, 1825), pp. 413-414.

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