Review of @ivpacademic’s “Theology Questions Everyone Asks: Christian Faith in Plain Language”

All but one of the twelve contributors is a member of the faculty of Wheaton College, easily the most identifiable institution of higher learning associated with modern American evangelicalism. When you see this, it will either worry you or fill you with security. Allow it to do neither. What the contributors have accomplished is not something that pushes one theological agenda, but attempts to answer the tougher questions posed by students, insiders, and outsiders — but with often times tougher answers than expected. Indeed, what is proved here is not just the worth of Wheaton, but the value of the intellectual tradition within American evangelicalism.

The twelve (symbolism?) topics selected for this book include,

  • What is Christianity? (answered by Timothy Larson)
  • How Does God Relate to the World? (answered by Gregory W. Lee)
  • What is Salvation? (answered by Keith L. Johnson)
  • How Should I Live? (answered by Vincent Bacote)
  • What is the Christian Hope? (answered by Beth Felker Jones)

I have selected these five, because I feel they give the best overview of the agenda of the book.

In Timothy Larson’s response, he aims to answer the simple question of what is Christianity. He suggests Christianity is not asking about the minimum requirements necessary, but “a commitment to orthodoxy.” (18) He recommends denying “unbelief” but turning to God to “become more truly Christian.” For him, it seems, the commitment to orthodoxy does not allow for reconsiderations and considerations within the Christian community. I find this troubling given the times segments of Christian has changed what it means to be orthodox. But, these are his most distressing viewpoints, his most strict limits. The rest of his chapter takes on the myths of secularization, science v. religion, and what it means to be an evangelical (I am not one, but he is). Larson’s chapter does not condemn openly those who oppose him, but sets out how to act and operate under a commitment to (evangelical) orthodoxy. I would like to suggest he is somehow wrong, but in the end, Christianity is not a religionless faith, but one with orthodox principles, doctrines, and even dogmas that should be adhered to because they inform us of who and what we are as Christians.

Gregory W. Lee suggests that science and faith are not opposed to one another (something of a hidden theme in the book). Sure, I disagree with him and other theologians, about ex nihilio, but by no means should we take him as a Young Earther. Rather, he is simply asserting God created the cosmos and as such, created reason and the laws reason has discovered. By this standard, Lee moves to side with Augustine and others in allowing that strictly wooden interpretations of Scripture are simply dogmatic assumptions that hinder faith more than preserve it. In fact, Lee argues for the allowance of evolution, citing the great minds of Fundamentalism and does so within a solid Evangelical framework. After this he moves into the free will v. determinism debate. Instead of delivering a soft, one-sided after, speaks to and upholds as important the tension between these two sides!

“Salvation is a trinitarian event,” Keith L. Johnson declares (120). I can hear this ringing in my ears, I believe, finding something of the author’s hidden shout still languishing on the pages. It is as loud as the day Johnson first wrote it down and I suspect will continue to echo through the run of this work. I do not intend any hint of hyperbolism or sarcasm. Indeed, Johnson’s article correctly summarizes the Christian salvic experience as one that incorporates all of the persons of the Trinity, even if I find his substitutionary atonement model rather limited.

Chapter 11, “How Should I Live?”, begins by defining what is “the world” and how a proper creation theology can have an impact on living here. Some readers will find Bacote’s understanding here a little stretched but if you read his chapter to the end, it becomes more clear. Even reading his section on politics should help the reader to understand there are different views about the world and our involvement, sometimes arising from the immediate contexts. His solution seems to be to become involved to the point of Scripture. He tackles several topics (military service, political party affiliation) and ends with the same answer, justice. While his take may seem distinctly American, it is better conceived as an examination of the life of a Christian under a democratic state where political participation is a prescribed part of the duty of the citizen.

Finally, Beth Felker Jones speaks to the hope of the Christian. Kingdom now, hell, and the such. This chapter, as you must expect, is filled with several questions and thus seems a bit choppy. However, Jones doesn’t need a lot of space to answer the questions. Some questions, well intentioned, deserves a simple “No.” Others, such as ones on hell get fuller treatment. Indeed, in her treatment of hell and the final judgment, she makes room for the minority voices, suggesting that while she believes with the majority, she is careful to listen to those of us who do not. Plus, she is careful to couch her theology in “Western Christianity,” knowing, I suspect, Eastern Orthodoxy differs from her.

As I said, the answers are rarely simple and soft. More than likely, you will find yourself with more questions, but I do believe that is the hallmark of good theology and good theological professors. While some contributors do gave a matter-of-fact answer, others give answers for your choosing with whispered instructions to tolle lege. And why not? Do we need set-in-stone answers or do we need to teach and to be taught how to think about these tough questions? I’d go with the thinking game that should be theology. Personally, this has raised my level of respect for Wheaton and many of these professors. Overall, a fantastic book for Evangelicals and Mainliners alike, for Americans and even the wayward Canadian.

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Post By Joel Watts (10,085 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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6 thoughts on Review of @ivpacademic’s “Theology Questions Everyone Asks: Christian Faith in Plain Language”

  1. Nice review, thanks. Would you consider reviewing Iain Provan’s new book, Seriously Dangerous Religion?

      • Me too. I read half of it, then set it aside and am only back to it now. I’m in the home straight with just about ninety pages to go.

        It doesn’t seem to have been reviewed anywhere else and I would be be very interested in your comments on it, once you’re done.

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