Nov 15, 2013
Blog Tour Review of Evangelical Theology
I am thankful to Zondervan and the Koinonia blog for allowing me to participate in the Evangelical Theology blog tour. I realize that I may be one of the last ones to contribute but in my defense, I was assigned to cover the longest part in the book! But having the longest part of the book is wholly appropriate in this case since it relates to theology proper or more properly, “The God of the Gospel: The Triune God in Being and Action.” Surely the measure of any systematic theology should be how it treats its most important Subject–God Himself.
In general, this was an enjoyable read. The author has an easy to read style that is clear and lively. Bird’s sidebar on “Evangelicals and Karl Barth” is a good example of this (pp. 191–93). He has a gift for making a serious point in a humorous way. Two examples of this should suffice.
“So the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo did not emerge ex nihilo” (p. 161).
“Giving a revelation to men and women alienated from God is a bit like trying to insert a DVD into a video cassette player; it won’t load” (p. 204).
This section was also fairly comprehensive. While footnotes are kept to a minimum, the content does not seem to suffer. Definitions are provided and different views are presented and Bird lets you know where he stands. There are also refreshing moments where the reader is reminded that theology is not merely a philosophical or theoretical construct but has significant implications for the Christian life. The author deserves kudos for presenting the practical implications of the Trinity in four areas: 1. prayer and worship, 2. ministry, 3. missions, and 4. community (pp. 122–24).
Of course with any work of this magnitude there will be points of disagreement here and there. I offer two examples. First, in his discussion of the Trinity, the author asserts that “the complexity of the subject means that the Trinity is not strictly a biblical doctrine, as there is no ‘Trinity’ in any biblical concordance” (p. 100). While this statement is true as far as it goes, I am not convinced that this statement is helpful. The fact is, there are few, if any, comprehensive doctrinal statements in the Bible and the mere mention of a term does not make a biblical doctrine. Furthermore, just about all, if not all, doctrines rely at some point on inferences. Second, I think there are problems with Bird’s portrayal of dispensationalism (pp. 220–21). While Bird is right in noting that there are different kinds of dispensationalists (p. 220) it is misleading at best to state that the sine qua non of dispensationalism is the distinction between Israel and the church when in fact it is only one of three identified by Ryrie in the source he has cited. Also, Bird states that “Dispensationalism has had bad consequences for Jewish evangelism” and then goes on to make reference to “extreme dispensational groups” (p. 221). While one cannot deny that there are extreme groups, is it good form to support one’s critique by utilizing the extremists within a group? It is akin to those who criticize Calvinists for not being interested in evangelism because they believe in unconditional election. One can find examples of this, but this does not mean that it is true of Calvinists in general. It is doubtful that one could write a history of modern Jewish evangelism without recognizing the significant contributions of dispensationalists.
These concerns aside, I appreciate what Evangelical Theology brings to the table. Like any conversation partner it has flaws, but one would be poorer for it by not listening to what this one has to say.