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.

May 28, 2016

Theology in Story

Clear Winter NightsRather unexpectedly yesterday, I found myself devouring all 160 pages of a 2013 novel by Trevin Wax Clear Winter Nights: A Journey Into Truth, Doubt and What Comes After (Multnomah). What attracted me to the book, besides some familiarity with the author’s many years of blogging, was the concept of using a story to teach.

As a huge fan of three novels by David Gregory which use this format — Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, Day with a Perfect Stranger and Night With a Perfect Stranger — I see the value in a genre for people who would never pick up a more commonplace ‘Christian Living’ title, let alone a book on basic theology. This is a book which has a storyline, but at the same time is using the plot at the front door to allow a lot of truth to enter through the back door.

Two words come to mind here, the first is didactic. The storyteller is truly the teacher. But the second, better word is the very similar dialectic, using a conversational style to impart knowledge, as did writers like Plato. This can also be called Socratic dialog or the Socratic method.

The banter is between two central characters, Chris Walker a disillusioned church planter whose job promise and engagement have both been broken; and Gil his grandfather, a retired pastor. You could call this Weekend with a Perfect… oh, never mind; that doesn’t work here; it’s a different dynamic.

Without giving away too much, I couldn’t get over how many of the topics Chris and Gil cover resonated with me. The book isn’t afraid to tackle some tough issues facing the church collectively and individual Christians, yet does so with tact, humor and grace. The key characters being male also makes this an ideal gift for men, something that is rarity in the world of Christian fiction, though I still prefer the dialectic label to override the fictional nature of the story.

While Trevin Wax and I are from vastly different tribes — he writes for The Gospel Coalition and works for LifeWay — I didn’t allow that to influence my reading and it doesn’t stop me from giving this book my full recommendation. In fact, a couple of times my eyes watered as the conversation unfolded. Clear Winter Nights works on many different levels.


Another author who writes in this genre is Andy Andrews. We reviewed The Traveler’s Gift and The Noticer.

Another fiction title that used the dialectic method was Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron.

My review of Dinner With A Perfect Stranger by David Gregory was more of an explanation of the DVD series which came from the first two books. He did the first two books with Waterbrook, part of the same publishing group as the title by Trevin Wax we’re reviewing today; but the third was published by EMI Worthy, who wouldn’t send a review copy, so I did the write up of Night With a Perfect Stranger in bullet points.

Apologies to UK, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand readers for spelling dialogue the American way. I know. What are we going to do?

November 27, 2012

Two-And-A-Half Men Actor Says, “Don’t Watch”

The entertainment press today is all over the story of Angus T. Jones, who gets more than a third-of-a-million U.S. dollars per episode to play Jake on the Chuck Lorre series Two-And-A-Half Men; a role he’s no longer comfortable with. Yes, this is the same show that once starred Charlie Sheen until he appeared to either go off his meds or take too many. Probably the latter. But Jones’ rant is calm, collected and rational. And his command of scripture is both impressive and authoritative.

I’ve seen some press coverage of Angus Jones over the past year and he’s always portrayed as a very refined, decent young man whose mom sometimes accompanies his studio appearances, to the point where I once questioned out loud what he was doing acting on that particular show. Entertainment Tonight’s coverage of remarks he made recently seem to link him to a Seventh Day Adventist church, which is confirmed in an update to his Wikipedia listing.

But the blog specializing in mainstream coverage or religious stories, Get Religion, notes that the interview containing the “Don’t watch” message was posted to YouTube by Forerunner Christian Church, whose webpage advertises upcoming meetings with two names known to charismatics as well as some readers here, Mike Bickle and singer Misty Edwards.  But did Get Religion get it wrong? The show he was interviewed on is called The Forerunner Chronicles.  Similar name.  It is clearly an SDA-friendly site — see the about page — and outwardly bears no resemblance to the church GR linked to; however, the SDA denomination says that the website and the program host aren’t part of their body.

Jones is not scheduled for the next two episodes, which were scheduled well in advance of what’s taken place.

The video itself is rather strange, cutting from an extreme close up at the 0:22 mark mid-sentence to a wide two-shot where he suddenly wearing glasses; with more of this weirdness at 4:53.  I’ve never seen anything like that before.

But I digress.

It’s wonderful to see the young actor take a stand. The show, like so many other prime time sitcoms, is filth. As far as I can remember, I’ve never got much past the five-minute mark on the handful of times I’ve watched.

“You can’t be a God-fearing person and be on a show like that;” he concludes. So wither his contract? Will Chuck Lorre release him from the show? How can you have two-and-a-half without the half? Here’s some wisdom from Chuck posted on the latest vanity card — the production slide that appears for one second at the end of his programs:

I’ve been told that if you change your mind, you change the world – or at least the way you experience it. Let’s take a moment to examine that. The presumption is, if you thought the world was a hostile, ugly place filled with awful people doing awful things, that is what you’d see. Your mind would naturally seek out confirmation for its preconceived ideas (e.g., if you’re intent on buying a red car, as you go about your day you’ll see lots of red cars). If, however, you were able to sincerely change your mind and see that we are all God in drag, that we are the conscious aspects of a perfect universe which had to create us so we could bear witness and stand in awe before its loving magnificence, then that is the soul-shaking reality you’d be greeted with each and every moment of each and every day. In other words, it is entirely our choice as to what kind of world we live in. With a simple decision, we can suffer in the darkness or play in the light. We can be angry, frightened and enslaved, or loving, joyous and free.

Well that clears up everything.


10:30 PM — UNFOLDING STORY UPDATE: Angus has moved into damage-control mode with a somewhat qualified and somewhat limited apology concerning his remarks. More at MSNBC. Meanwhile Charlie Sheen declares the show is “cursed.” More here.

WED. 2:00 PM – FURTHER UPDATE: Journalist Maria Cowell has asked all the right questions in this interview posted at Christianity Today.

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