"Evangelical Theological Method: Five Views" ed. by Porter and Studebaker. A Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It may seem simple, but not everything is as it appears. For example, how does one answer these three questions: (1) What is the task of theology? (2) Why do theology? (3) And how are we to do theology? Though some may be tempted to fleer at what seem to be rather inane questions, yet a recently published 250 page paperback, "Evangelical Theological Method: Five Views," will draw readers up short and make them reflectively pause. Stanley E. Porter, president, dean, professor of New Testament, and Roy A. Hope Chair in Christian Worldview at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and Steven M. Studebaker, Howard and Shirley Bentall Chair in Evangelical Thought and associate professor of systematic and historical theology at the same institution, have edited this volume, drawing together five theologians who come from different realms of the Evangelical tent to discuss theological method. The contributions are ethnically, denominationally, and ecclesialogically diverse: Korean, Nigerian, Anglo, Baptist, Presbyterian, Emerging Church and Non-Denominational. This book is the newest installment in the 22 volume Spectrum Multiview series.
As the editors point out, this manuscript "addresses all three questions in respect to method in evangelical theology. It provides both a practical guide to the major approaches to theological method among evangelical theologians and a useful resource for students, theologians and professors that illustrates the application of these methods" (2). And that it "presents five theological methods of doing theology in the global, pluralistic and postmodern landscape of contemporary evangelical theology" (23). In the first section of the book, each of the five writers present their particular theological method (Doctrinal/Conservative, Missional, Interdisciplinary, Contextual, and Trinitarian Dogmatic), describe why their approach to theology is important, and then applies their method to Christology and how it plays out. The second portion of the book has each author interact with the other four. The first and final chapters are reserved for the editors. The beginning chapter helpfully maps out the genealogy of Evangelical Theology, and the last pulls together a summarization of the contributions, what has been learned, and thoughts about how to move forward.
As I read through the articles and interactions I found myself better informed. I learned more about Barth's approach and its value, especially seeing the Trinity as revealer, revelation, and revealedness. I heard the clear exhortation from central Africa that theology should be less concerned with academic peer-reviews and more concerned with answering the questions of the parishioner in the pew. I thrilled at how the missional God is on the move in Jesus Christ by his Spirit through his church. I resonated with the systematic organizing of God's Word that logically instructs God's people. And I was challenged to embrace the potent notion that theology is not just another discipline, but the recognition that the kingdom of God "penetrates every other domain of human inquiry" (77) and this should speak to our theologizing.
But further, as I worked through the pages between these covers, I felt as if the center of Evangelicalism may not hold much longer. The disparate ways of doing theology are straining the fabric, and the seams are starting to show their distress. I know that in my own denomination at least three of these ways of doing theology (reflected by several seminaries that feed pastors into our denomination) appear to be buckling the metal and creating stress fractures along the rivet lines down our ecclesial wings. Though several of the authors tried to reassure readers that these ways of doing theology are all "friends," it's pretty clear that they are not necessarily that favorable to - and with - each other.
I also appreciated how one writer, Telford C. Work, took a bold and important step by applying his interdisciplinary method to Christology and how Christology addresses homosexuality. In this section of his piece he employed Bebbington's four common features of the evangelical movement to the subject: biblical, cross-centered, conversion minded, and activism (80-92). Though some of his conclusions left me wondering what he was getting at or just downright concerned; others were clear and helpful, such as, the "gospel begets an alternative to both gay and antigay scripts by identifying a believer not with his or her sexual longing, either positively or negatively, but with Jesus Christ" (91). I'm grateful he chose to demonstrate his theological method's practicality.
"Evangelical Theological Method" is an important work for pastors, theologians, and seminary professors. On the one hand it will help concerned readers become more discerning and fathom better what's going on in North American Evangelicalism. On the other hand it will interrogate one's own assumptions about doing theology and likely provoke some much needed reflection. It's a book worth getting for personal benefit, reading groups, seminary classes and university libraries. I highly recommend the book.
My gratitude goes out to IVP Academic for handing me the book used for this review. The only thing they asked is that I give an honest review, and that's what you have here.
If you would like to purchase the book, go here: IVP Academic
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