Thinking Out Loud

February 17, 2014

A New Standard Theology Textbook?

While I keep a number of Biblical and theological reference books on my shelves, I recognize that the average reader here does not. Still, there are people who want to go deeper in their understanding of Christian theology as well as people who have taken, are taking, or plan to take some formal courses from a Bible College or seminary. For them, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology has always been the standard text. You can read more about it at this page.

But this morning, a little hyperbole on Twitter got my attention. Filling out past the 140-character limit, someone wrote:

The world would be a better place if Grudem’s work was composted and replaced with Evangelical Theology by Michael F. Bird.

Composted? That’s a bit harsh. I decided to investigate the title. You can read more about it at this page, or continue below:

Evangelical TheologyEvangelical Theology is a systematic theology written from the perspective of a biblical scholar. Michael F. Bird contends that the center, unity, and boundary of the evangelical faith is the evangel (= gospel), as opposed to things like justification by faith or inerrancy. The evangel is the unifying thread in evangelical theology and the theological hermeneutic through which the various loci of theology need to be understood.

Using the gospel as a theological leitmotif — an approach to Christian doctrine that begins with the gospel and sees each loci through the lens of the gospel — this text presents an authentically evangelical theology, as opposed to an ordinary systematic theology written by an evangelical theologian. According to the author, theology is the drama of gospelizing — performing and living out the gospel in the theatre of Christian life. The text features tables, sidebars, and questions for discussion. The end of every part includes a “What to Take Home” section that gives students a run-down on what they need to know. And since reading theology can often be dry and cerebral, the author applies his unique sense of humor in occasional “Comic Belief” sections so that students may enjoy their learning experience through some theological humor added for good measure.

Ironically, both are published by Zondervan, and both at $49.99 US. The Michael Bird work was published in November of last year and runs 912 pages. (Grudem’s released in 1995 and is 1,296.)

Traditionally, the first purchase anyone was encouraged to make when building a Bible reference library was a concordance, but Bible software has rendered them somewhat obsolete. A Bible handbook (overview) is still helpful to have as is a single-volume Bible commentary. Bible dictionaries have lost some market share to their online counterparts, but some people still like to have a Bible atlas, which is probably still the toughest content for your computer to present fully, hence the need for print. 

The next step, to show you’re really committed, would be to purchase a theology textbook of the type described here; one that deals with the individual doctrines, and shows how they all, like puzzle pieces, fit together to form a functional and logically consistent theology.

I looked up “leitmotif” for you and added to the publisher blurb, but you’re on your own with “gospelizing.” 

With files from Ingram Book Company

October 16, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Follow Me

Sometimes people say I don’t share enough personal stuff on my blog. Fine. Here we go.  As I compile this link list, my wife is frying fish in the kitchen. There. Is that the kind of thing you mean?  For the link list with the actual links in them, click over to the Wednesday Link List’s new owner, Leadership Today’s blog Out of Ur.

  • Ever wondered how the Catholic Church ended up with an amended Ten Commandments? Maybe there were Fourteen Commandments to begin with.
  • Think it’s bad where Malala Yousafzai is from? One writer thinks it’s just as bad in the United States where the daughters of homeschooling parents are being held captive and denied higher education.
  • Is it possible that we’ve missed a major nuance of a most-familiar story because of the placement of the chapter division?
  • Because it would be nice to know ahead of time, here’s six signs you’re dealing with a toxic person.
  • Programs, growth strategies, and ministry tools can all be helpful, but in this piece, a well-respected church blogger apologizes for seven years of misplaced emphasis.
  • The Hour of Power telecast is now airing fresh programs from their new home at Shepherd’s Grove, with pastor Bobby Schuller.
  • Facebook isn’t just posting your cat pictures, they’re also running the stats on info you provide, including your odds of getting engaged at a Christian college…
  • …But from a pastor’s viewpoint, what does a wedding ceremony look like when God isn’t invited?
  • CNN doesn’t so much interview Sarcastic Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Webber as it does ask for a guided tour of her various tattoos.
  • Stop the Presses! It’s a Justin Bieber photo album with pics of  J.B. with Pentecostal and Charismatic pastor friends.
  • Most Concise Reponse: Shane Claiborne on Texas’ capital punishment record.
  • September’s Best Object Lesson: Spiritual Warfare: What To Do When You Encounter a Lion. (Don’t miss page two!)
  • Essay of the Week: This week it’s another look at the (sometimes contentious) issue of infant baptism…
  • …while another writer suggests that errant doctrinal positions that led to the Protestant Reformation are slowly creeping back into Protestantism.
  • Most Linked-To Everywhere Else: An interview with Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell on the reigniting of his faith while working on David and Goliath.
  • From the Land of Unusual Allegories: Preaching is Basically a Hail Storm. (Are you making a dent?)
  • “Are we doing the right thing?” A prolific Canadian Christian author and mom to four boys on refusing to feel guilty in six different parenting departments.
  • Open Letter Department: Tony Jones to Marcus Borg: Jesus rose from the dead.
  • When writers Tweet older blog pieces: Michael Patton on reasons for and against the inclusion of the Apocrypha. (December, 2012)
  • And it came to pass that See You At The Pole begat Fields of Faith.
  • 25 Years Ago on this date (give or take several months) before we had the word ‘tween,’ the children’s music sounds of Prism Red.
  • Does your church dim the lights when the worship time begins? Lee Grady wishes you would leave the lighting alone.
  • If you’re in Atlanta on Thursday night, you can always catch the pairing of Ravi Zacharias with Jeff Foxworthy (and radio host Dennis Prager) but you’ll need tickets.  (Can’t wait to see if the next one is Hank Hanegraaff and Billy Ray Cyrus.)
  • When I say “Darlene Zschech” you say “Hillsong,” but more recently the word you want to remember is hope.
  • As wooden pews are slowly facing extinction in favor of chairs, this trend in church furniture has attracted the attention of The Wall Street Journal.
  • Married? Here’s a great checklist: Five Questions to Ask Your Spouse Every Week.  (Okay, I added the italics.)
  • Magic Musical Moment: Sam Robson’s acapella O Love That Will Not Let Me Go. Like that? Here’s a bonus: It is Well With My Soul.
  • Weird Video of the Week: Hosanna by Hillsong for Synthesia (Don’t think Michael W. Smith learned piano this way.)
  • Those “Get Inside Rob Bell’s Brain” mini conferences (my title, not his) must be going well, since there are two more events scheduled.
  • Last week was the 1,700th anniversary of the Edict of Tolerance aka the Edict of Milan. (Sorry I didn’t get you anything.)
  • Before you click the link, take a guess as to the Top 5 Bible translations in the U.S.
  • The Boy Scouts in the UK now have an alternative pledge for atheists.
  • King James Only advocates have a problem with the fact that HarperCollins publishes both the NIV and The Satanic Bible. So whatever you do, don’t show them this page.

Without giving away his age; Paul Wilkinson spent his formative years in Toronto’s Peoples Church at a time when it was Canada’s only megachurch, and attended their horse ranch, where one of the beasts once stepped on his foot. (More amazing personal details to follow…)

The upper image is from Church Funnies where it got 1,000 likes.  The lower image is from Christian Funny Pictures, where they’re trying to locate the artist.

vegan feeding 5000

September 16, 2013

Destroying the Idol of Absolute Certainty

…each one of us needs to be developing a personal, systematic theology so that we can respond when asked what we believe. We should know the ways of God; truly know what Jesus would do. But we should write our theology in pencil, not pen; remaining open to the possibility that what we see as through frosted glass will become clearer over time and therefore subject to change…

- me, Thinking Out Loud, 2/24/13

There are going to be those, on seeing this is a review of a Greg Boyd book, who will immediately dismiss everything that follows. While perhaps not as high on the controversy scale as Rob Bell, Boyd’s writings, sermons, and YouTube videos posted on his blog often reference the radical pacifism of his Anabaptist leanings; his belief that the American Church should be apolitical, not seen to be supporting candidates of either major party; and his teaching of ‘open theology,’ which offers the idea that for any given persons or group, the future could contain a range of possible outcomes among which God has not committed himself to knowing the final choice in advance.

Benefit of the Doubt - Greg BoydWith his newest book, Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty (Baker Books), Gregory Boyd presents the thesis that far too many Christians — at least in North America and western Europe — are committed to a set of spiritual propositions more than they are committed to Christ; and that in fact the thing they worship and place their faith in are these ‘certainties,’ far more than they worship and have their faith secured in “Christ, and Him crucified.”

At this point, I want to step out and say that I while I believe this book has great potential for both seekers and skeptics, this is must-reading for every seasoned or veteran Christ-follower. Furthermore, I want also step out and, to use a cliché, that if the Lord tarries, I think Greg Boyd will be remembered as one of the great thinkers of our generation, even if he is not heretofore accorded such honor.

While the book clearly intends to shatter the idol of theological over-confidence, its equal purpose is to give some peace and comfort to people who, although they are long on the journey with Jesus, still don’t feel they have all the details of the contract worked out. He is writing to those of us who perhaps know people for whom all doctrinal and theological matters are settled once and for all, while we ourselves, as in the above quotation from a previous column here, feel our theological understanding is better jotted down in pencil rather than indelible ink and therefore feel our relationship with God is somewhat lacking.  He writes,

Think about it. If I was confident that God unconditionally loves me because of what he did for me on Calvary, then wouldn’t I be confident that his love for me does not increase or decrease based on how accurate or inaccurate my other beliefs are? So too, if I was confident God ascribes unsurpassable worth to me on the basis of Calvary, then wouldn’t I be confident that my worth can’t be increased because I hold correct beliefs and can’t be decreased because I hold mistaken beliefs? These questions answer themselves.

Unlike other books I review here, the chapters of Benefit of the Doubt must be considered sequentially, not only for the progression of thought the book entails, but also because of the many autobiographical sections that are introduced then later referenced. This book is Greg Boyd at his most personal, most transparent; even as he writes of weightier things.

While Boyd admits in a couple of places that he tends overall to lean to the conservative position on many doctrinal issues; and that he believes in the inspiration of scripture and even a version of inerrency; the book will resonate with people who wrestle with many of the more difficult parts of the Bible, or those who are stuck in a place overshadowed by past unanswered prayers. He gets into this in describing an upcoming conference based on the book:

There are those who might falsely infer that with a title such as this, the pastor of Minneapolis megachurch Woodland Hills is slowly moving away from orthodoxy. Based on my reading, I would say with deep conviction, don’t think that for a minute. This is a book about the value of doubt; a book that espouses the concept that perhaps in an atmosphere of doctrinal fragility, our ultimate faith in Christ is perhaps stronger, more enriched, and more able to withstand the realities of life. As the publisher blurb suggestions, “Let your questions lead you to a stronger faith.”

January 19, 2013

Weekend Link List

Weekend List Lynx

Weekend List Lynx

Lots of stuff that can’t wait until Wednesday!

  • This one is must reading. Matthew Paul Turner asks former Mars Hill Bible Church pastor Shane Hipps all the questions I would have asked about the church, hell, Love Wins and the man he succeeded at MHBC, Rob Bell.

    “This is one of the biggest misunderstandings.  Rob doesn’t have a position or a concept of hell, he is an artist exploring possibilities and making unexpected connections, not a theologian plotting out a system.  In other words there is nothing to agree or disagree with.  It’s like saying I disagree with that song or that painting.”

    Read more at MPT’s blog.

  • CT’s story of the week concerns gay students at Christian colleges. That’s not a typo.

    “Leaders at Christian colleges and universities around the country told Christianity Today their schools are rethinking the way they address the needs of [same sex attracted] students on campus.”

    Read more at Christianity Today.

  • If you’ve been around the church for any length of time, you might remember “visitation” by pastors and church elders. These days, you’re more likely to get a house call from your doctor.  David Fitch’s guest author Ty Grigg thinks you might not have anybody drop in these days:

    “It is not a cultural norm to have neighbors or even friends over to our homes for dinner.  If we want to be with people, we go out.  The restaurant has replaced the space that home once occupied in society.  Typically, for younger generations (40’s and under), a visit will be at a coffee shop or to grab lunch.  In our suburban isolation, the home is too much of an intimate, sacred space for most non-family members to enter.”

    Read more at Reclaiming the Mission.

Other links:

  • Canadian readers will remember a national pre-Christmas story involving the theft of $2M worth of toys from a Salvation Army warehouse in Toronto. Here’s a follow-up on how the organization is working to protect itself by having a solid ‘whistle-blower’ policy
  • Want a taste of that theological educational experience you missed? RegentRadio.com, the internet broadcasting arm of Regent College, frequently offers free lectures by its professors. Currently it’s wrapping up a twelve-part series with Gordon Fee on the Holy Spirit in Pauline Theology with a new lecture available each day.
  • We linked to this about six months ago, but it’s worth a revisit. Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed links to a 9-minute video where an orthodox priest explains various theories of atonement.
  • Sarnia is a Canadian city across the river from Port Huron, MI.  Pastor Kevin Rodgers blogs at Orphan Age and reminds us how a shared meal is a great way to build community.
  • USA Today religion editor Cathy Lynn Grossman looks at the larger religious issues in Monday’s Presidential inauguration ceremony.
  • A New Jersey substitute teacher is fired for giving a student his personal Bible as a gift after the student kept asking where the saying, “the last shall be first” came from.
  • New blogs we’re watching this week — okay new to us:
  • Talk about California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day: Our closing shot this week is from a Facebook page dedicated to books. The picture combines two of my favorite passions: a day at the beach and reading.

Beach Library

December 28, 2012

Why Mere Christianity Still Works: An Analysis

Mere Christianity C. S. LewisYou’re expected to review current books online, and this review is therefore 60 years too late. However, John Stackhouse has saved the best wine (so to speak) for the last (of the year) with a landmark analysis of the continuing popularity of the C. S. Lewis bestseller Mere Christianity.

I know not everybody clicks through, so I’ll include a few highlights here, but if you treasure good writing, you need to read the article now, because it is every bit as delightful as the book itself. 

john_stackhouseStill here? Okay, those highlights include:

  • A somewhat disjointed set of C. S. Lewis’s views on a wide range of theological, philosophical, and ethical matters, the book became the most important and effective defense of the Christian faith in its century.
  • The first reason why MC should not have worked is rather basic: It doesn’t deliver what its title promises. It does not do even what John Stott’s classic Basic Christianity does—namely, outline at least the basics of evangelicalism’s understanding of the gospel.
  • A second reason why… it is, after all, an extended set of philosophical and theological arguments. Even worse, it is front-loaded with its densest material, a reworking of the moral argument for the existence of God…
  • MC works because Lewis was a master at two rhetorical arts, which he combined fluently: argument and depiction.
  • Lewis can both show and tell. He can tell us what he thinks we should think, and then make it appear for us in an image that usually lasts long after the middle steps of the argument have vanished from memory.
  • What seems effortless for Lewis is actually extraordinarily difficult to emulate. The market is now flooded with books by Ph.D.s who cannot write an interesting and intelligible paragraph, and by wannabe pop apologists who just aren’t very smart.
  • People today do want arguments, but they want them the way Lewis delivered them: in plain language, about issues that matter, in a methodical step-by-step fashion, and with illustrations that literally illustrate and commend the point being made. For scholars to write this way today is at least as much of a challenge as it was in Lewis’s day.

Okay, that’s enough bullet points (aka spoon-feeding!) You really do need to read the article.

C. S. LewisBut then, if you haven’t already had the pleasure, you need to read Mere Christianity. I would suggest taking a chapter at a time; no more than one per day and don’t try to rush through it. Even better, if you can find an interested friend or relative, read it out loud to them daily for several days. (It was, after all, originally a radio broadcast.)

It may also whet your appetite for apologetics, a subject frequently discussed here, that is simply too foreign to too many Christ-followers. I encourage you to develop a taste for it.


If you make it through MC and do indeed find yourself wanting more, I would suggest your next stop be Classic Christianity by Bob George, a man who also knows the power of a good illustration.  Review here.  Excerpt here.

Images: I figured it rather obvious which one is John Stackhouse, Jr. and which one is C. S. Lewis, but, for the record, they appear in that order.  (Actually, the first image is the book in its most recent North American paperback edition from HarperCollins.)

September 13, 2012

Complete Links To Christian Century’s “Gospel in Seven Words”

So what if someone asked you to summarize your faith in seven words (or less)? That was the challenged faced by 23 writers at Christian Century. So… why bother listing all the articles here? Why not just link to the page? Because statistically, you guys drop by here — by the hundreds daily — but don’t click. (You don’t want to know what’s on, you want to know what else is on!) So I’m hoping a few of the answers here entice you to at least read a couple of the original articles. Or perhaps you’ll recognize a familiar name.  As to subscribers, I apologize; I don’t have a clue what you’ll get today.  Continue reading after the break.  You can at least click that, right?  As for the formatting, sometimes WordPress doesn’t play nice with other platforms…

(more…)

January 21, 2011

On March 29th, 2011, It All Gets A Little Crazy

Christians who talk the most about going to heaven while everybody else goes to hell don’t throw very good parties. ~ Rob Bell, Love Wins

On March 29th; just a few weeks from now, you can count on various forms of social media to be all about Rob Bell’s newest book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

‘In the first chapter alone,’  the Tweets, Facebook updates, and blog posts will read, ‘Bell clearly and finally defines his departure from Christian orthodoxy.’

Well, at least orthodoxy as we knew it; so detailed and convincing as some of his lines of thought are drawn.  Whether you agree or not at the end, you will definitely find yourself saying, “I never thought of it quite like that.”

I’m just a few pages from the end of an advance copy, and, well, this wouldn’t be a teaser if I said more right now would it?  You’ll have to wait a few more weeks for the book that Bell’s former publisher Zondervan no doubt figured was too hot to handle.

As the voice-over announcer said, “Coming Tuesday, March 29th to a bookstore near you from HarperCollins.”

…With more teasers to follow here at Thinking Out Loud.  Let the speculation begin!

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