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Saturday, January 30, 2016

"Theology and the Mirror of Scripture" by Kevin Vanhoozer and Daniel Trier. A Review.


Theology and the Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account
Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Daniel J. Trier
IVP Academic (InterVarsity Press)
PO Box 1400
Downers Grove, IL 60515
ISBN: 978-0-8308-4076-2; $26.00; November 2015
Reviewed by Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber for Deus Misereatur

4 Stars out of 5

Maybe the hinge is binding because there’s something wrong with the door altogether, or maybe there’s nothing more than a bit of rust and grime that have begun to encumber the door from opening and closing properly. Whatever it is, my truck door is giving me fits! It catches, groans and pops every time I open and close it. In many ways, evangelicalism is in a bind and catching. It doesn’t appear to be “working” correctly any longer. That’s why Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and Daniel J. Trier, Blanchard Professor of Theology at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, have penned their new 301 page paperback, “Theology and the Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account”. This is the first volume in a new IVP Academic series titled, “Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture”.

“Theology and the Mirror of Scripture” seeks to outline and arrange a way to pursue a mere evangelical approach to theology, Christian practice, Scripture and church. By mere Vanhoozer and Trier do not mean a minimal or negligible evangelicalism. Instead, the authors are seeking “for the greatest common denominator, that which ought to unify (…),” to define those things that are of “first importance” (12). They desire evangelicals to be people of something bigger, to recognize that “no one denomination or theological system exhausts everything there is to be said (…),” and so we should “speak the truth, and perhaps nothing but the truth, but not the whole truth (…). To speak the whole truth, we need the whole (catholic) church” (119).

Nevertheless the authors recognize that they are up against a high wall that will be hard to mount. They identify four challenges that potentially block the way of building a mere evangelicalism. First there is now “more robust academic engagement” between evangelical scholars and other academic disciplines, which brings around “puzzling difficulties” for trying to discern if changing views are “theologically faithful or unfaithful, identity-altering or indifferent” (24). Next, evangelicals have become increasingly aware of the “Great Christian Tradition” as well as other sub-traditions and internal variety (24-5). Further, there is a growing interest in, and perception of, global Christianity, along with the various ways the Gospel is worked into, through and out of the countless cultural contexts (25). Finally, “interfaces with emergent Christianity and culture” all of which are pushing hard against any “traditional concept of evangelical identity” (25-6). These four challenging changes “exacerbate the dilemma of distinguishing uniquely “evangelical theology” from “theology done by evangelicals” (26). The wall to be scaled is high, and there are serious obstacles that will make even getting to the wall problematic.

With these adversities and vicissitudes clearly before them, the authors craft out a basic set of involved approaches. As they note, the “the purpose of evangelical theology is to help make communities of disciples, people who come to understand and correspond to the reality of the gospel – people who become “little Christs” and thus fulfill their vocation to live as images of God.” This means, for Vanhoozer and Trier, that the “ambition of evangelical theology is to retrieve what God’s people have heard in the past, to renew tired traditions and to respond with alacrity and obedience to God’s forward call in the present” (45). The rest of the book is their inaugural schematic on how to achieve and accomplish this “chief task”.

“Theology and the Mirror of Scripture” is a dense read. Honestly, I’m not sure I fully understand much of what is being projected. It will likely take a second reading and time to digest their proposals. That said each chapter holds riches and resources to be plundered. There is a solid case made for the theological interpretation of Scripture, of looking along, rather than at biblical texts (185). Also, some form of confessionalism and higher ecclesiology is hammered out. Included in the chapters are gentle warnings to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2.1), to be careful about sliding away from sola Scripture into sola cultura (257-260).

“Theology and the Mirror of Scripture” is not a definitive mountain-top statement, “Do this, and you shall live!” Rather, it is more of a suggestive, conversation-initiating book. It is meant to spray a little WD-40 on the gritty, rusty evangelical hinge. I encourage you to pick up a copy and begin thinking along with Vanhoozer and Trier: what would a mere evangelicalism look and feel like, and how do we get there.


Thanks to IVP Academic for providing, upon my request, the free copy of “Theology and the Mirror of Scripture” used for this review. The assessments are mine given without restrictions or requirements (as per Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255).

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