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Book Review

Palatable theology

Here’s a systematic theology written in a chirpy style and easy to read. I read all 900 pages of it with real enjoyment. It is Evangelical Theology: A Biblical And Systematic Introduction by Michael F. Bird (Zondervan, 2013. ISBN: 9780310494416).

But it’s not lightweight stuff from this Australian theologian. He covers everything you’d expect to find in a systematic theology, but in an unusual order, based on the notion that ‘the evangel’ (the gospel) should be the uniting factor. He makes the likes of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology look exceedingly dull.

His leanings are Calvinistic. He breaks out into revised thinking on some aspects of eschatology, baptism, the kingdom of God, the unity of the church and the eucharist, but remains doggedly traditional on, for example, foreknowledge, historic premillennialism and cessationism regarding apostles and prophets. And while he warns of the dangers of proof-texting, I feel he comes close to it himself in places. But I like the way he avoids heavy theology-speak and expresses deep truths in plain, up-front language. Also to his credit is his willingness to state that his own view is not shared by all, and he is gracious in his assessment of the alternatives.

It’s his style that is the real breath of fresh air. He’s not averse to throwing in a topical illustration or using a bit of slang—but it’s always to make a solid theological point. And being down-to-earth, he is at pains to keep his theology rooted in the personal realities of actually knowing God and loving his people.

This is the kind of volume that you will return to time and again in order to read up on some theme that you’re studying. That’s where the Logos Bible Software edition of the book is so helpful: you just hover over a Bible reference and it appears right there in a pop-up. Highly recommended: both the book and the software (www.logos.com).

[Available for Logos Bible Software, Kindle and in hard copy. The numbers after the quotations below are Kindle location numbers.]

I have a hard time learning from anyone who thinks we have little to learn from our forefathers in the faith. (312)

After seeing a few of the things that systematicians do with Scripture, I have generally believed that some theologians should be routinely slapped in the face with a soggy fish in order to try to smack some exegetical sense into them. (405)

To do theology is to describe the God who acts, to be acted upon, and to become an actor in the divine drama of God’s plan to repossess the world for himself. (504)

In what is in many respects a fine theology textbook, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology espouses a theological method that epitomizes the concerns I have about the dangers of biblicism. (1552)

The gospel is the announcement that God’s kingdom has come through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1699)

Perichoresis is our way of describing how the life of each divine person flows through each of the others, so that each divine person infuses the others and each has direct access to the consciousness of the others. It implies that the three persons of the Trinity exist only in a mutual reciprocal relatedness to each other. (2376)

Ask Joe Bloggs or Mary-Joe Biggins what they mean by God and you’ll hear something amounting to an old granddad who lives in the clouds, made the universe pretty, sends good people to heaven and bad people to hell, does the odd miracle here and there, and pretty much leaves everyone be. Now I probably wouldn’t get out of bed on Sunday morning to worship that kind of God either, so I don’t blame them for staying away from church if that is the only God available to worship. (2655)

The heavenly good of earthly work undertaken in this creation will be forwarded and rewarded in the new creation. (3451)

An unqualified preference for propositions is evidence for buying into the Enlightenment view that real truth is propositional and all other forms for expressing truth are inferior. (4316)

The summit of God’s glory is the union of Jews and Gentiles in communion with God’s Messiah. (4798)

Continuity between the Old and New Testaments is far more predominant than patterns of discontinuity. (4975)

The irony of postmodernism is that its quest for absolute diversity can only be achieved by crushing dissenters. (5221)

Apocalyptic eschatology looks forward to the Creator’s redemption of the created order and his refusal to abandon it to decay. God redeems what he creates. That is why Christians look forward to the resurrection of the flesh and not to the immortality of the soul (1 Cor 15:35–58). (5298)

Endless speculations about the “seventy ‘sevens’ “(9:24) that correlate the restoration of Jerusalem with the establishment of the modern secular state of Israel (9:25), an identification of the death of the “Anointed One” with the crucifixion of Jesus (9:26), and placing the whole narrative within an apocalyptic tribulation of the last days are about as convincing as vows of fidelity in a Hollywood wedding ceremony. (5746)

I conclude…that the Olivet Discourse does not directly involve events beyond AD 70. (5821)

I confess, as G. E. Ladd did a generation ago, that if it were not for Revelation 20, I would be amillennial. (6183)

It seems that upon death, the separation of body and soul is both blessing and a bummer, something enjoyable but also somewhat ephemeral. The unity of the material and immaterial parts of one’s being are the norm, but death ruptures that norm ahead of the resurrection. Yet, despite the awkward disunity of body and soul at death, believers still enjoy God’s presence and look forward to the day when they will be raised in a psychosomatic unity of body and soul in God’s everlasting kingdom. (7206)

In some evangelical theologies, the Bible has eclipsed Christ as the center and lifeblood of faith. To be sure, Scripture is the authoritative testimony to Jesus; it is inspired and infallible. But the locus of our theology must be the person of Jesus, not our holy book. (7630)

The sad fact is…that for many Christians, Jesus’ life is really just the warm-up act to Paul’s atonement theology. (7912)

The one God of Israel does in Jesus for the world what he had said he would do through Israel. (8444)

The criticism that penal substitution was a latecomer on the scene in Christian theology is profoundly false. (9086)

I tentatively propose that the Christus Victor model is the crucial integrative hub of the atonement because it provides the canopy under which the other modes of the atonement gain their currency. (9193)

I stand in the Amyraldian tradition… The Amyraldian view attempts to combine a Calvinist view of election with a universal view of the atonement. (9546)

A better English translation of the creed, which is used in the Church of England, is this: “He descended to the dead.” In other words, the wrong “tradition” about a descent into hell is really a wrong translation of the Latin perpetuated by the Reformers, who did not differentiate “hell” from “Hades.” (9639)

The New Testament provides clear accounts of Jesus’ deity and intimations of Jesus’ coequal authority and majesty with God. But there is still a sense in which Jesus is, functionally at least, subordinate to God. (10720)

The church does not replace Israel, nor is it identical to ethnic Israel. Yet the historical and redemptive events manifested in Jesus and the Spirit forever transform and redefine God’s people. Jesus becomes the new covenant mediator, himself the true Israel, and so the people of God are constituted as Israel by virtue of their relationship to him. (11396)

If there is no regeneration under the old covenant, Jesus can no more expect Nicodemus to understand the concept of spiritual new birth than he could expect him to understand the Internet (John 3:3–5). (11974)

Though it is common to insist that Christians are merely sinners saved by grace, we should consider a different paradigm. Christians have definitively broken with the old age of sin and evil; they are new creations, and they are more aptly described as saints who sometimes sin. (12109)

I have one primary objection to the Reformed scheme, namely, that the emphasis on the imputation of Jesus’ active obedience needs urgent qualification. (12707)

In the biblical testimony, we are saved by grace and through faith. Universalists unfortunately define grace in such a way as to obviate the necessity for faith. (13410)

Tragically, the Holy Spirit is largely neglected by many evangelicals. They regard the Holy Spirit as the poor cousin of the Trinity. There is the Father (long grey hair, big white beard, shiny white gown, kinda like an Anglican version of Santa Claus); then there is the Son (hippie long hair, well-trimmed beard, and good Caucasian complexion); finally, there is the Holy Spirit, who is kinda like a “buzz” that sets off good vibrations about God when our favorite hymn is sung at church. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit often ends up becoming an empty affirmation in a theological checklist. (13916)

Keeping up with the Spirit is like trying to follow the beat in some syncopated jazz music: there is a rhythm, but you have no idea where it is going. (13925)

Another comment I have to make, at the risk of sounding irreverent, is that if God inspired all the words of Scripture in their Greek case, order, and syntactical construction, then in the book of Revelation, God needs some remedial training in Greek grammar. That is because the Greek of Revelation, highly Semitized and rough, is poor compared to the polished Greek of Luke and Hebrews. (14556)

The imago dei is a function, a royal vocation for humanity to reflect the reign of God in their stewardship over creation. (15015)

He allows the viper of death to strike him, but he drains the poison of sin from its mouth, so that although the serpent may yet still bite others, the venom of its attack is gone. (15772)

If believing in the Trinity were a crime, how much evidence would there be to convict most Christians? (16552)

We have in Word and sacrament a divine script and holy props that nourish and strengthen our faith in the theo-drama in which we find ourselves. (16785)

On the safe assumption that we are not meant to sit around and read Left Behind novels until the second coming… (17070)

I eminently prefer the Eastern Orthodox Church’s explanation for the real presence of Christ in the elements. I once asked an Orthodox priest: “Nikos, mate, how can the bread and wine be bread and wine and be Christ at the same time?” After a brief pause, he looked me in the eye and replied, “Stuffed if I know, mate; it’s just a mystery!” At least he’s honest: we don’t know and we can’t know. (17799)

Most Baptist churches I have visited believe in the doctrine of the “real absence” of Jesus from the Eucharist. (17823)

We could say that Eucharist is the hors d’oeuvres of the coming messianic feast. (17921)


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