Book Review – What Christians Ought to Believe (Michael Bird)

Michael F. Bird. What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine Through the Apostles’ Creed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2016. 240 pp. $24.99.

WCOBDr. Michael Bird‘s latest offering, his most accessible book yet, is both enlightening for the average person in the pew and edifying for the student and scholar. Bird spends the first two chapters of What Christians Ought to Believe providing an introduction to creeds and an apologetic for why we need them. To a Christian world where the dominant creedal affirmation is “no creed but the Bible,” he argues that “by ignoring the creeds those who consider themselves to be orthodox are effectively sawing off the theological branches upon which they are sitting” (13). Bird shows how creeds are biblical, summarize the New Testament tradition, and marked out the boundaries of the faith. He provides an overview of the canonization process that demonstrates that the creed and canon were mutually creating and mutually reinforcing. Finally, he argues that creeds can both invigorate our faith and provide a sure anchor for biblical faith.

The rest of the book (twelve chapters) is devoted to a systematic exposition of the theology of the Apostles’ Creed. Beginning with “I believe,” Bird explores the meaning of (Christian) faith itself and reveals it to be “our trusting response to what God has done for us and promised us in the gospel, which in turn pervades every aspect of our lives” (46). In illuminating the fatherhood and omnipotence of the Creator-God he addresses the controversial issues of the patriarchal language and the creation accounts and shows how the ultimate issue in both cases is the identity of God and our relationship to him. Bird introduces the doctrines of incarnation and hypostatic union as well as some of the Christological heresies; he helpfully spends a chapter on the life and ministry of Jesus (which is not mentioned in the Creed), showing how “Jesus’s messianic career is not simply the hors d’oeuvres to the atonement” (87) and probing the depths of what it meant to call Jesus “Lord.” He engages with critical views of the virgin birth but also highlights five dimensions of the its true significance (it was not so that Jesus would be without sin!).

In regards to the atonement, Bird interestingly points out that while the early church formulated statements about the nature of Christ, it never attempted to reach a consensus on the precise mechanics or effect of the atonement. He provides a good overview of the main theories of atonement and rightly notes that while each is saying something true, some have a greater capacity than others to be the integrating theory. In a move that will surely ruffle some conservative feathers, Bird notes that he favors Christus victor as that integrating theory. Unlike many modern versions of the Apostles’ Creed, Bird uses “He descended to the dead” rather than “He descended to hell.” He helpfully explains the Descensus ad Inferos (explicating what the Bible says about Hades/Sheol and what Christ did there on Holy Saturday) and points out the main facets of the significance of the resurrection. The next chapter on the ascension is particularly helpful, as the ascension is probably the most neglected facet of Jesus’s career; it’s not just “Jesus’s return trip to heaven” (162). In expounding upon the person and work of the Holy Spirit, Bird warns us of the twin dangers of neglecting the Holy Spirit and overemphasizing his manifestations. He passionately argues for the importance of ecclesiology, of the church being part of the content of theology rather than just its packaging (193), and finally, reminds us that heaven is not the end of the world.

What Christians Ought to Believe is one of the best examples of scholarship serving the Church. In this book, one of the finest biblical scholars of our day has written an accessible, popular-level  introduction to the basics of the Christian faith. Biblical, theological, and historical concepts are simplified but not simplistic, and at every turn informed by responsible and robust scholarship. This is a great book for intellectually oriented new believers, Christians just starting to get serious about doctrine, as well as mature believers and beginning formal theology students. I can also see this being a great book to study together with someone you are discipling or in small groups. Most of all, this book needs to be devoured by any and all who are either anti-creed or have never studied the Apostles’ Creed.

Many thanks to Mike for having a copy sent to me! I’ll buy you a cup of coffee at SBL 😉

Purchase: Amazon | Westminster

 

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The Early Text of the New Testament (Charles Hill & Michael Kruger ed.)

Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger, ed. The Early Text of the New Testament. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2012. 498 pp. $50.00.

Early TextIn response to the recent burgeoning of new textual materials and renewed scholarly interest in NT textual criticism, editors Charles Hill and Michael Kruger felt that it was time for a radical and thorough review in light of the major text types. The Early Text of the New Testament brings together some of the best scholars of the early NT texts to present an impressively comprehensive set of essays that “provide an inventory and some analysis of the evidence available for understanding the pre-fourth-century period of the transmission of the NT materials” (2).

In Part I, four essays cover the textual and scribal culture of early Christianity. First, Harry Gamble discusses the book trade in the Roman empire, addressing the commercial book trade, the non-commercial book trade, and finally the publication and dissemination of early Christian books. Early Christian texts “were produced and disseminated in much the same way as other literature in the larger socio-cultural environment,” (31) and hence susceptible to the same hazards. Next, Scott Charlesworth examines indicators of “catholicity” in early Gospel manuscripts. He notes that the use of standard-sized codices and standardized nomina sacra in the early manuscripts of the canonical gospels prove the notion of “catholic” consensus and collaboration among early Christians. This catholicity, Charlesworth points out, does not indicate uniformity. The upshot of all this is that “[t]he evidence for later second- and second/third-century “catholicity” presents real problems for the Bauer thesis” (46).

In the third essay Larry Hurtado focuses on the sociology of early Christian reading, arguing that “there is a distinguishable Christian reading-culture, another ‘specific sociocultural context,’ and that early Christian manuscripts are direct artefacts of it” (49). In the final essay of the first part, Michael Kruger addresses early Christian attitudes toward the scribal process. He examines early testimony regarding the scriptural status of NT texts (such as 2 Peter 3:16 and The Epistle of Barnabas 1:14), and early testimony regarding the reproduction of NT texts such as the Deuteronomy 4:2 formula. Kruger concludes that “a high view of these texts (and concerns over their transmission is not mutually exclusive with the existence of significant textual variation” (79).

Part 2 comprises eight chapters devoted to a detailed and up-to-date assessment the early manuscript tradition of the NT, proceeding by book or groups of books. These essays are quite technical and detailed and are not as accessible as Part 1 and Part 3 to the nonspecialist. This section concludes with an essay on the witness of the early versions by Peter Williams in which he issues some words of warning in regards to Bruce Metzer’s The Early Versions of the New Testament and that particular tradition of using the early versions. Specifically, Williams argues that “while the early versions are indeed important for historical, cultural, and linguistice reasons, in one respect their contribution has been overestimated: they have been held to play an important role in deciding between Greek variants concerning which actually they give no clear testimony” (239).

The final sections contain eight essays that deal with early citation and use of the NT writings. In the first essay of this section, Charles Hill examines methods and standards of citation in the second century. He first looks at the Greek tradition and provides examples such as Homer and Herodotus to demonstrate that accuracy in reproducing another author’s words was not part of the tradition of classical Greek. To show that this same tendency characterized the citation of sacred literature, Hill brings forth examples from sources such as Philo and Josephus. Hence, “even a stated and sincerely held regard for the sacredness of a text did not necessarily affect an author’s practice of what we would call loose or adaptive citation” (277). Hill concludes his essay with some important implications for not only attempts to extract an underlying text, but also for the study of reception history of biblical writings as well. The rest of the chapters examine the citation and use of the NT in a variety of early writings: the Apostolic Fathers (Paul Foster), Marcion (Dieter Roth), Justin Martyr’s 1 Apol. 15:1-8 (Joseph Verheyden), Tatian’s Diatessaron (Tjitze Baarda), early apocryphal Gospels (Stanley Porter), Irenaeus’s Adversus haeresus (D. Jeffrey Bingham and Billy R. Todd, Jr.), and Clement of Alexandria (Carl Cosaert).

The Early Text of the New Testament is a must-read for students and scholars of the NT and particularly for those with interest in the early manuscripts and early citation of the NT texts. While some of the essays (mainly the ones in Part 2) are quite technical, the essays in Part 1 have broader appeal and could benefit the thinking lay Christian and pastor who is curious about the scribal culture during NT times, canon formation, and apologetic issues surrounding Scripture (and the NT in particular). This book presents the latest research on the early manuscript tradition of the entire NT and also addresses key issues in the discipline of textual criticism. As such, I think it’s essential reading for those taking a New Testament textual criticism course at the seminary level. One final note: this book was originally published as a hardcover retailing at $175 (standard for academic monographs). Last year OUP published a much more affordable paperback that retails at $50, which is a steal for this type of book. Buy this book if you’re a serious academic student of the NT, and especially if you’re interested in the manuscript tradition.

Thanks to Oxford University Press for the review copy!

Purchase: Amazon

40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

John S. Hammett. 40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015. 336 pp. $21.99.

40 Q B&LSThough baptism and the Lord’s Supper have been almost universal practices among Christians throughout the ages, disagreements about what they mean and how they are to be practiced are littered across church history and continue into our day. While there is a healthy ecumenism concerning these topics among evangelicals today, it would be unhealthy to assume that these so-called second order doctrines are not important to Christian theology and practice.

Indeed, the importance of these two topics is thankfully recognized as recent years have seen a number of books addressing them (e.g. Understanding Four Views on Baptism and Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper). One might ask why 40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper is necessary when there are already a handful of books that address the key issues related to these two sacraments. The author John Hammett (professor of systematic theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) addresses this in his introduction, noting four ways this book is unique: it addresses both baptism and the Lord’s supper, whereas most books deals with just one of the two; it covers a much wider range of topics; it addresses practical issues; and the table of contents lists each of the forty questions, providing a helpful reference for readers who want to look up specific issues.

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40 Questions about Creation and Evolution

Kenneth F. Keathley and Mark F. Rooker. 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014. 432 pp. $23.99.

40QOne of the most controversial and divisive intra-evangelical debates is in the area of origins. At the extremes, Young-Earth Creationists (YECs) can think that Old-Earth Creationists (OECs) and theistic evolutionists have a low view of Scripture and are at risk of compromising the gospel; OECs and theistic evolutionists can think YECs are not using their brains and have a faulty literalistic hermeneutic. Most frequently books on origins are written from a certain perspective and/or address one (or a few) subtopic(s), and often books on origins increase misunderstanding and further the divide between the main camps (the several multiview books in this area are, of course, exceptions to the latter statement). In 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution, Kenneth Keathley and Mark Rooker provide a balanced, fair, and scholarly yet accessible introduction to all the main issues surrounding the topic of origins.

Keathley and Rooker are both professors at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, with the former identifying as OEC and the latter identifying as YEC. Though conservative, Keathley and Rooker do not succumb to some of the pitfalls of conservative books on origins. They are fair and nuanced in their presentation and assessment of other views and rarely cast other positions as automatically outside the bounds of orthodoxy. This can be seen in their approach in Question 38, “Can Christians Hold to Theistic Evolution?” They note famous Christian leaders past and present who embraced theistic evolution, such as B. B. Warfield, C. S. Lewis, and Tim Keller. However, they emphatically affirm the importance of an historical Adam and Eve and present this as the litmus test for any model that tries to integrate Genesis 1-3 with the findings of modern science (378).  They do note that while there are serious and detrimental consequences to denying an historical Adam and Eve, they do not doubt the commitment to Christ of those who do so, such as Lamoureux and Giberson. After surveying three positions held by evolutionary creationists who affirm an historical Adam, Keathley and Rooker note both evangelicals (who affirm inerrancy) who affirm evolutionary creationism (such as Bauer) and those who contend that it is not a viable option for evangelicals (e.g. Grudem). While noting the theological concerns and hermeneutical challenges of evolutionary creationism, the authors recognize that believing scientists “are followers of Christ who desire to be faithful to the gospel by working with integrity within their scientific vocations” (385).

Structurally 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution is broken into six parts: the doctrine of creation (4 questions), creation and Genesis 1-2 (6 questions), the days of creation (6 questions), the age of the earth (6 questions), the fall and the flood (9 questions), and evolution and intelligent design (9 questions). This is an excellent introduction to the topic of origins that interacts with the best of biblical scholarship and scientific views. While solidly evangelical with a commitment to biblical inerrancy, the authors are not overly dogmatic and are irenic and fair in their presentation of other views. I highly recommend this book as an introduction to the topic of origins, but especially to those who hold to conservative views on the matter. Not only do you come away from the book with a broader and deeper understanding of the topic in general and the main points of debate, but you also gain a greater appreciation for the other sides. Often conservative literature paints a picture of OECs and evolutionary creationists that tries to make you question their faith and commitment to Christ; this book helps you see that it’s possible for those on the other sides of the debates to affirm inerrancy and have a genuine devotion to Christ and commitment to the gospel.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Amazon

 

Book Review – Union with Christ in the New Testament (Grant Macaskill)

Grant Macaskill. Union with Christ in the New Testament. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013. 368 pp. $150.00.

macaskillRecent years have seen a renewed interest in union with Christ among evangelicals (e.g. at the popular level Billings’s Union with Christ and Marcus Peter Johnson’s One with Christ, at a more academic level Constantine Campbell’s Paul and Union with Christ and Macaskill’s volume currently under review). Macaskill’s volume sets itself apart in research on this topic by focusing on the entire NT rather than just on the Pauline corpus, and by approaching the topic exegetically but in robust conversation with historical and (to a lesser extent) systematic theology. His main argument in Union with Christ in the New Testament is that despite the multiplicity of ways union with Christ is described in the NT, across the writings of several authors, there is a cohesive picture and broadly consistent theology of union. Macaskill summarizes this big picture that emerges from the NT as follows:

The union between God and humans is covenantal, presented in terms of the formal union between God and Israel. The concept of the covenant underlies a theology of representation, by which the story of one man (Jesus) is understood to be the story of his people. Their identification with him, their participation in his narrative, is realised by the indwelling Spirit, who constitutes the divine presence in their midst and is understood to be the eschatological gift of the new covenant. Reflecting this covenantal concept of presence, the union is commonly represented using temple imagery. The use of temple imagery maintains an essential distinction between God and his people, so that her glorification is understood as the inter-personal communication of a divine property, not a mingling of essence. This union is with a specific people, the members of which are depicted as the recipients of revealed wisdom, and this is the grounds of their intimacy with God. While the mystical language of vision is used to describe this knowledge, it is democratised to indicate that the revealed knowledge in question is possessed by all who have the Spirit, who are marked by faith, not just by a visionary elite. The faith that characterises this group is a real enactment of trust in what has been revealed in Jesus Christ, manifest in the conduct of the members of this community and particularly in their love for one another. The sacraments are formal rites of this union, made truly participatory by the divine presence in them.

(Macaskill 1-2)

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Book Review – The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate (Michael Kruger)

Michael J. Kruger. The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013. 256 pp. $24.00.

Kruger CanonDr. Michael Kruger, President and NT professor at Reformed Theological Seminary Charlotte, is a leading expert in Christian origins, early Christianity, and the development of the NT canon. In The Question of Canon, Kruger focuses on the question of why we have a New Testament canon at all (which comparatively has received very little attention) rather than the overworked questions of when and how these twenty-seven books came to be regarded as canon. The status quo, the dominant view in regards to why we have a canon that is challenged in this book, is what Kruger calls the extrinsic model – that the New Testament canon is “a later ecclesiastical development imposed on books originally written for another purpose” (7). The alternative that Kruger proposes and defends in this book is what he calls an intrinsic model – “that the idea of canon is not something imposed from the outside but develops more organically from within the early Christian religion itself. The earliest Christian communities had certain characteristics and also held a number of theological beliefs that, especially when taken in tandem, would have made a new collection of sacred books (what we would call a ‘canon’) a more natural development” (21).

The goal of The Question of Canon is not to prove the intrinsic model, but to demonstrate that the extrinsic model is problematic and thereby raise serious questions about its viability, paving the way for scholarly consideration of and further research with the intrinsic model. Each chapter addresses one of the five major tenets of the extrinsic model. Chapter 1 addresses the first – that we must make a sharp distinction between Scripture and canon. While acknowledging the strengths of the exclusive definition of canon (e.g. it rightly expresses the canon’s fluid boundaries prior to the fourth century), Kruger points out that “on those terms we still do not have a closed canon” (32 emphasis original) and that “the abrupt change in terminology gives the impression that these books bore some lesser status prior to this point; it communicates that Christians only had Scripture and not a canon” (33 emphasis original). Kruger then defines and gives strengths and weaknesses of the functional definition of canon (whereby canon is determined by function instead of presence in a closed list) before proposing the ontological definition as best: “The ontological definition focuses on what the canon is in and of itself, namely the authoritative books that God gave his corporate church…Books do not become canonical – they are canonical because they are the books God has given as a permanent guide for his church” (4o emphasis original). Kruger finally demonstrates the strength of all three definitions of canon being used together in an integrative and multidimensional approach.

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Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary: New and Enhance Edition

Ronald F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, and R. K. Harrison, ed. Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary: New and Enhance Edition. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2014. 1280 pp. $49.99

BDThere are several tools indispensable for every serious student of the Bible, one of which is a quality Bible dictionary. For the academically inclined layperson or pastor as well as seminarians and scholars, IVP Academic’s 8-volume black dictionary set is as good as it gets. But that’s an expensive investment, and so most Christians will probably begin with the best one-volume Bible dictionary they can find, and possibly build up to a full set over time. One of the most comprehensive and trustworthy one-volume Bible dictionaries is Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. In this new edition, every entry of the 1986 original was reviewed, updated, or replaced as necessary. Original features such as hundreds of color photographs, a study and teaching outline for each book of the Bible, and extensive charts, tables, and diagrams, were retained. This Bible dictionary also features a helpful visual survey of the Bible before the dictionary proper. In addition, the dictionary utilizes an extensive cross-referencing system.

With plenty of pictures, large typeface, and generally short articles in accessible language, this is probably the best one-volume dictionary for the beginning Bible student (e.g. new believers or Christians just starting to study the Bible seriously). For the more advanced, the best one-volume Bible dictionary is still IVP Academic’s New Bible Dictionary edited by I. Howard Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, and D. J. Wiseman.

I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase: Amazon

Book Review – Heaven (Christopher Morgan & Robert Peterson, ed.)

Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, ed. Heaven (Theology in Community). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 288 pp. $18.99.

HeavenHow often do you think about heaven? What comes to mind when you do think about the subject? Popular Christian conceptions of heaven range from misguided to bizarre. Many see heaven exclusively or mainly as the place Christians go when they die, and/or as a “boring” place of perpetual harp-playing on clouds and church services. Books on heaven that line the shelves of Christian bookstores are mainly stories of those who claim to have visited heaven (whether in a vision or in a story of dying and being brought back to life), but these depictions are often starkly different from the biblical picture. There is a great need for the average Christian to have a robust theology of heaven informed by the Bible as opposed to these popular but unbiblical books, and Heaven, the latest in Crossway’s Theology in Community Series, is the perfect resource for this need.

Like the other volumes in the series, Heaven brings together an all-star team of evangelical biblical scholars and theologians who love the church and are involved in various forms of ministry. This series offers one of the best examples of scholarship for the church, bridging the academy and the church. Top-rate scholarship is presented in an accessible package, providing robust content without much technical jargon. In the place of academic tangents that would seem irrelevant to the average person in the pew is practical content for the typical lay Christian.

After an introductory chapter, the next five chapters of Heaven surveys what the Bible says about the subject. “We need not wait until Revelation 21–22 to start seeing the heights of heaven. The whole Bible is the story of heaven above coming down to earth, deity coming down to humanity, grace coming down to the unde­serving, to lift them up” (43). Several of these chapters touch on inaugurated eschatology and correct the common misconception of a disembodied existence in heaven being the end goal of redemption.

After the biblical survey, Chapter 7, “Pictures of Heaven, traces five of Scripture’s most impor­tant pictures of heaven (heaven and earth, Sabbath rest, the kingdom of God, the presence of God, and the glory of God) through the four stages of the biblical storyline of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. Next Chapter 8 presents an overview of how God’s people have historically understood the doctrine of heaven and chapter 9 addresses angels. Chapter 10 addresses an issue that tends to be far from our minds and hearts here in the west – persecution. This chapter draws out important connections between persecution and heaven, for “the primary pur­pose of biblical eschatology is neither to pander to our inquisitiveness about what will happen in the last days nor to inflame our greed for treasures in heaven but to encourage the faithful to persevere along the costly path of obedience” (227). The concluding chapter addresses the hope of heaven.

Heaven in the Theology in Community series is a book for all lay-Christians serious about their faith. It’s a book pastors, bible study leaders, and all involved in ministry and leadership should read and recommend to those they teach and lead. This book is an excellent introduction to the subject of heaven that is at once biblically/theologically profound and yet practical and accessible.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

I received a free digital copy of this book from Crossway in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review – 1 Samuel For You (Tim Chester)

Tim Chester. 1 Samuel for You. The Good Book Company, 2014. 221 pp. $22.99.

1 SamThe God’s Word for You series from The Good Book Company has quickly become my favorite source of devotional reading. In addition to being used in conjunction with personal devotions, the books are designed to also be read straight through or used as an aid in preparing to teach. These books are not commentaries, but they are expositional and reveal much more about the background and meaning of the biblical texts than typical devotionals. They’re accessible to one unfamiliar with the Bible, but at the same time enjoyable as a devotional read for those more seasoned in Bible study and familiar with the particular texts.

The latest volume, 1 Samuel for You by Tim Chester, is the first I’ve read from the series on an Old Testament book. Because lay Christians tend to struggle with reading the Old Testament (whether just struggling to actually read it and/or struggling to interpret and apply it), I’m always on the lookout for helpful resources on Old Testament books. 1 Samuel for You hit the proverbial ball out of the park.

1 Samuel is more familiar to most Christians than many other books of the Old Testament; it’s here that we find many of  the beloved stories of David that are ingrained in our minds since childhood Sunday School. Yet often the actual point of the texts are missed as we stay on the surface and merely draw moralistic applications. Perhaps the greatest strength of 1 Samuel for You is that it draws out how the biblical texts and certain characters and events point toward Christ. One prime example of this concerns the very familiar story of David and Goliath. Chester shows how Goliath is presented as a snake and David defeats him with a head wound, harking back to the prophecy in Genesis 3:15.

[D]avid is the Christ – the prototype of and pointer to Jesus Christ…in Luke 3:21-22, Jesus is anointed by the Spirit as the king-designate. This is David and Goliath revisited. This is Israel in the wilderness revisited. This is Adam in the garden revisited. Jesus is the true son of David, the true son of Abraham and the true son of Adam (3:31, 34, 38).

(pp. 124-125)

So often when the stories of David are taught, we are immediately told to emulate David’s qualities while the typology is completely missed; but over and over again Chester helps us see that the ultimate point is “not that we are called to be like David. It’s good news that we have a David” (127). Of course we shouldn’t ignore practical application, and Chester doesn’t; this book is also richly devotional and immensely practical.

The combination of accessible Christ-centered exposition and devotional/practical application makes 1 Samuel for You an ideal devotional and guide to the book of 1 Samuel for laymen. Again, this is not a commentary so additional works should be sought by those pursuing more in-depth study.

Purchase: Amazon

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews for the review copy!

Book Review – Reading Theologically (Eric D. Barreto, ed.)

Eric D. Barreto, ed. Reading Theologically (Foundations for Learning). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2014. 145 pp. $14.00.

Introduction
reading theologicallyIf you follow my blog, chances are you like to read. Or you’d like to like to read. I read a decent amount, and in the back of my mind there are always thoughts about the practice of reading. Most of these can be classified into two categories: thoughts related to how I can read more, read faster, retain more, synthesize better, etc; and thoughts about holistic integration – whether my reading is causing me to love God and people more or just causing me to become prideful and ingrown, how I can facilitate the overflow of my reading into my life in ministry and service, etc.

Overview
I was delighted to find that Reading Theologically actually tackles both these spheres, even though I was only expecting the former (practicals of reading better). Though specifically written for seminarians and those intending to pursue seminary, this book is helpful for all Christians in regards to reading theologically. A compilation of eight chapters by eight seminary instructors from diverse backgrounds, this is a short and readable book that addresses both skills and habits vital to reading theologically as well as impact on and integration with spiritual formation and ministry.

The holistic emphasis can be seen right off the bat in chapter 1, “Reading Basically,” which addresses reading as embodied practice, communal practice, spiritual practice, and transformative practice. These challenge the tendency for seminarians (as well as lay bookworms/intellectuals) to neglect their bodies, communities, devotional lives, and transformation. Chapter 2, “Reading Meaningfully,” offers tools and strategies for reading meaningfully across the various kinds of books required in seminary. This chapter provides an introductory guide to the process of interpretation and reading for theological meaning.

Chapter 3, “Reading Biblically,” is perhaps the most important chapter in this book. Reading biblical and theological books is great; but as Christians, the Bible is our most important book and we must not neglect it. The temptation for seminarians and “bible/theology nerds” is to read about the Bible while neglecting the Bible itself; to depend on the fruits of others’ labors in the Word and cheat on doing the lifting ourselves. This chapter addresses reading the Bible academically (with tips on reading historically, linguistically, and contextually), communally, spiritually, and practically. Again, this chapter is holistic as it addresses not just the academic side of reading the Bible well, but also the importance of reading in community, asking what God is trying to say through a certain text, and how the exegetical process can be applied to a real life situation in service of the church.

The remaining chapters address reading generously (giving other perspectives a thoughtful look as a practice of love), reading critically (how ideological criticism can serve the theological reader), reading differently (why thinking contextually is important to thinking theologically and how to do so), reading digitally (celebrating the blessings as well as challenging the vices of of digital communication), and reading spiritually (how to enhance learning about yourself and deepening your connection with God as you read). The “Reading More” section before the bibliography must not be skipped by anyone serious about becoming a better reader. Several of the texts commended here are seminal for growing in general reading, Bible reading, and theological reading.

Conclusion
Due to the brevity of this volume as well as its nature as a compilation of chapters by different people, you will inevitably read things you wish were fleshed out in more detail as well as find a bit of both repetition and discontinuity. However, its brevity can also be extremely appealing. Someone seeking a book to help them become a better reader is much more likely to read a 150 page book (this one) than a 400 page book (Mortimer Adler’s classic tome on reading well, How to Read a Book). This book should be read by every student in Bible college or seminary and everyone considering these forms of schooling. Though it is specifically written for the formal theological student, this book would in the same way benefit every informal theological student – every Christian who desires to grow in reading theologically.

This book offers excellent practical suggestions for better reading. But what I appreciated most is the holistic emphasis throughout – that reading well is not just about having your nose perpetually in a book, but ultimately it’s about your own spiritual life, serving the church, and reaching out to a lost and broken world. These are vital reminders for seminarians as well as laymen with an academic bent – it is a dangerous thing to be so enraptured and consumed by concepts and ideas that you neglect your soul, your church, and the lost. Reading Theologically both helps the reader gain skills to better handle texts as well as provides impetus and suggestions to better love and serve God and His world.

Purchase: Amazon

See the Foundations for Learning series page here. You can receive 35% off each volume if you sign up for the entire six-volume series.

Many thanks to Shaun and Fortress Press for sending me a free copy in exchange for an unbiased review!