Thinking Out Loud

February 7, 2019

Theology Resource Aims to Make Us Better Informed

You’re wading through a thread of online comments when you realize that you’re being inundated with terminology you don’t quite get. As one of the not-formally-trained, you really want to understand what’s under discussion but the use of certain words either leaves you in the dust or leaves you scrambling to secondary sources to see what’s at stake.

There’s nothing truly “contemporary” about theology. The roots of the subject are the individual doctrines which are, in one sense, unchanged since the resurrection. That foundation was laid a long, long time ago. But over history there have been movements, and changes in emphases, that have resulted in many different ideas about how we understand God and his ways.

That’s where the book Contemporary Theology: An Introduction (Zondervan) enters. The full title is Contemporary Theology: An Introduction – Classical, Evangelical, Philosophical and Global Perspectives and is described as “a new 412-page collection of names, movements, and methods found in theological and biblical discussions that are never fully discussed or explained in the books one reads.”

That’s true. If you find yourself constantly looking up theological references online, this print resource might prove to be handier. If you want to know about the basic doctrines of Christianity, you need a different book. Instead, author Kirk MacGregor wants you to be better informed about the things which crop up in blogs, forums and other venues for heated discussion.

Consider the list. Each one of these gets about eight pages plus two pages of bibliography. This chapter list has been edited to show you what I considered the highlights:

4. Existentialism
5. Dispensationalism
7. Spurgeon’s Biblical Theology
8. Vatican I and Neo-Thomism
9. Revivalist Theology
10. The Social Gospel
11. Christian Fundamentalism
12. Karl Barth and Neo-Orthodoxy
14. Pentecostalism & Pneumatology
16. Contemporary Evangelicalism
20. Catholic Theology: Vatican II to today
23. Current Anabaptist Theology
24. Liberation Theology
25. Feminist Theology
26  Complementarianism / Egalitarianism
27. Reformed Epistemology
29. Postmodern Theology
30. Open Theism
34. Theology and the Arts
35. Paul and Justification
37. Evolutionary Creation

With an academic text like this, I haven’t read each individual entry, but focused initially on those movements I was already familiar with. It left me wanting to get the word about this great resource out there. The ones I did read I thought were fair and balanced, and unlike other books of this nature where different writers contribute different chapters, I was impressed that an individual author could be so well-versed on such a diverse group of theological perspectives.


Zondervan Hardcover | 412 pages | 9780310534532 | $34.99 US

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for arranging for me to get a closer look at this book.

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June 14, 2018

Books about The Book

Many years ago I was given a copy of something titled What’s the Best Book? It was an obviously homemade production — the type of thing you’d get printed and bound at Office Max — and for each book of the Bible it offered three of the best commentaries. On the front cover it proudly stated, “Published by Farrell’s Ice Cream” and an address which I believe was in Florida.* Despite this, I saw the value in such a compilation; this was truly someone’s labor of love.

Inside many of us is an unfulfilled Bible nerd. Though we can’t put Bible College or Seminary on our resumés, we love researching topics for the weekly Bible Study and having an ample supply of Bible reference materials on the shelf. We’d never dare quote Greek — at least out loud — but our inner scholar is always just a breath away from bursting forth.

This week I was truly blessed when a friend, now living on the other side of the continent, gifted me with a copy of Best Bible Books: New Testament Resources by John Glynn with contributions from 4 other writers; published just weeks ago by Kregel Academic. This is the Farrell’s Ice Cream book on steroids.

On a book-by-book basis, it lists the books it consider best resources and the books which are better resources and the ones which are simply good, as well as, at the end of each Biblical book’s section recommending additional books on other subjects which arise out of those texts. (The good/better/best ranking is done as each title arises alphabetically; one needs to read through the listings carefully.)

More than just a recommended list, it offers an informed rundown of the approach the author takes in each; followed by the format and usability.

It’s important to state that the books do not all receive glowing recommendations; there are some tough criticisms here which means no pastor, professor or student will end up with a resource which differed from their expectations. 

This is not a book you just sit down and read cover-to-cover, and for that reason I don’t purport that this is a review. Its benefits are toward those who want to get the right book; for those times when neither budget nor shelf-space allow multiple purchases. It’s also a resource I believe every Christian bookstore should keep handy, and every Bible College and Seminary library ought to display in a special place.

Many of the recommended books are from mainstream sources, though readers will encounter some esoteric publishers. Page counts are given but not U.S. list prices. There are some expensive titles to be sure, these types of materials don’t come cheap.

Here’s what Kregel themselves had to say about it:

There are thousands of excellent resources in the field of New Testament studies. But which tools are best for sermon preparation, topical study, research, or classroom study? In Best Bible Books, the authors review and recommend hundreds of books, saving pastors, students, and scholars time, effort, and money.

Glynn and Burer examine commentaries on every book of the New Testament, describing their approach, format, and usability; they then rank them on a scale of good, better, and best. Other chapters survey special studies for each New Testament book as well as books in related disciplines such as historical background, language resources, and hermeneutics. Also included are helpful chapters on building a must-have personal library, and identifying books that comprise the ultimate New Testament commentary collection. This is an indispensable resource for any serious student of the Bible.

Additional sections include recommended resources on general New Testament background, Jewish context, Jesus in the Gospels, and commentary series themselves.

I did say that this isn’t a book you simply read for enjoyment, but I’d like to qualify that: Seeing the different tactics used in the approach section of each listing in a section (i.e. 2 Timothy) and then following that section for each publication mentioned is truly an education in itself. It’s a reminder to ask ourselves, “How do I approach the text?”

Paperback | 336 pages | 9780825443985 | $27.99 US | $37.79 CDN 


*I believe Zondervan did something similar once. They had a book by John Kohlenberger called Words About the Word (about translation) and then did something called Books about The Book (from which I stole today’s title) but I couldn’t find evidence for it online to include here.

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