Book List – Intro to Theology

                                         Photo by Stanislav Kondratiev on Unsplash

The Big One

The Bible

Essential Reading
Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 2001.
*Moreland, J. P. Love Your God with All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1997.
Ryrie, Charles C. Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1986.
Suggested Reading
Beckwith, Francis. Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998.
Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996.
Carson, D. A., ed. Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1998.
________. Postmodernizing the Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1998.
Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989.
Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology: Volume One, Introduction, Bible. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2002.
Grenz, Stanley and John Franke, Beyond Foundationalism. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2001.
* Groothuis, Douglas. Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against The Challenges of Postmodernism. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000.
**Guiness, OS. Time for Truth: Living Free In A World Of Lies, Hype & Spin. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 2000.
John Hannah, Our Legacy. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 2001.
House, H. Wayne. Charts of Christian Theology & Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992.
McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology, An Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1998.
Noll, Mark. Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994.
*Sire, James. Habits of the Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: IVP, 2000.
**Stott, John. Your Mind Matters. Colorado Springs, CO: IVP, 1973.

*Read one of these.
**Read these two.

Intro to Theology Part 1B

Today I read the introduction to The Mosaic of Christian Belief by Roger E. Olson, which arrived on our front porch today. The introduction is part of the assignment to complete session 1 of the  “The Theology Program”  “Class Introduction” to the first course “Introduction to Theology”. My spouse has not read it yet. She has read the first chapter of Dr. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology which I wrote about in the last post.

In the first session video, “Class Introduction” to the first course “Introduction to Theology” the lecturer makes the observation – if we look for classes where everything the teacher presents perfectly agrees with everything we already know and everything we feel passionately about, we will probably think the class is great and the teacher is great but we won’t learn anything.

I don’t think the rest of the book The Mosaic of Christian Belief will perfectly agree with everything I already know and everything I feel passionately about but, while reading the introduction, I commented to my spouse, “Wow, this guy is saying things I have been saying for years.” I do hope I learn something.

For years I have been saying many divisions in Christianity are one group’s OVERREACTION to another group’s error or the other group’s OVER EMPHASIS on some small point of secondary doctrine. Here’s how Roger E. Olson spells it out

…many Christian theologians…believe…the Roman Catholic Church over reacted to modernism in its ranks in the nineteenth century by making papal infallibility a dogma…Similarly, some Protestant groups have overreacted to the perceived threat of modernism by developing a doctrine of strict biblical inerrancy. Often such overreactions give rise to opposite overreactions.

Moving on, on page 12 I found a great sentence.

Too many Christians identify “authentic Christian belief” with one narrow slice of Christian thought.

Of course, this reminded me of my favorite quote which happens to be from a fiction book…

I found it again at last! Page 156 – 157 of My Soul to Keep by Melanie Wells.

Dr. Dylan Foster is thinking to herself while searching through literature on snake lore.

“Then there was all the mystical stuff. Once again, the dearth of comparative religion in my theology training nearly skunked me. Four years of sod-busing in seminary had taught me exactly nothing more than what I already knew–in grander proportions, of course, and to near-microscopic levels of minutia. In the end, I got out of there with a solid hermeneutical method, an encyclopedic understanding of dispensational theology, and the ability to conjugate verbs and deconstruct participles in Greek and Hebrew–all notable skills–but without even passable knowledge of anything outside one extremely narrow strip of theological territory.”

“When it was all said and done, I’d spent four years and trainload of money to get indoctrinated, not educated. Lousy planning, if you ask me.”

On page 13 Olson laid out a definition of evangelical as understood in the United States today. If I drop where he repeats “evangelical” in his definition, I think I should show this definition to the Director for Missionary Discipleship in my Roman Catholic Diocese and I would get an agreement about this definition being what the Roman Catholic Church is finally moving to.

…evangelical…describe especially that form of (mostly) Protestant Christianity that…is generally conservative in theology, conversionist and evangelistic, biblicist, and focused on Jesus Christ as God incarnate, crucified Savior, risen Lord, and returning king…emphasis on the importance of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” through an experience of conversion involving repentance and faith and a daily life of discipleship to Christ that involves prayer, Scripture reading and seeking by God’s help to emulate the Savior.

I guess the growth toward an evangelical emphasis in the Roman Catholic Church would fall into this “(mostly)” in the first line of this quote.

On page 18 I found two sentences which sum up a discussion of trends in most of the Christian church, particularly in North America, as Olson states. He wrote about these trends from the bottom half of page 17 almost all the way to the end of page 20.

What “feels good” an”provides comfort” is often the main criterion by which grassroots Christians decide what to believe and how to practice their spirituality. The church becomes a support group rather than the communal bearer of a tradition that values truth.

I am so sick of sentimentality!

While working with teenagers and their parents preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation, way too often I’ve listened to teens and their parents describe the total of their lived experience with Jesus Christ with something to the tune of “I am so glad He is there for me when I need him. He gives me such comfort.” This an example of a part of what Christian Smith, sociologist of religion, and the coauthor of the book Soul Searching called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

That’s fine but it shouldn’t be all there is. Unfortunately too often it is all there is. This is serious because we are at war and Jesus Christ is our Commander and Chief. He’s not just Savior. He is also Lord. He’s not at our beck and call. We are at His. He owns us, not the other way around. We have been bought with the price of His death on a cross.

There is more I’d like to comment about but I’ll hang it up for tonight.

Intro to Theology

Today I read chapter 1 of Systematic Theology by Dr. Wayne Grudem. I also watched a short video introduction presented by the author. My spouse and I plan to work our way through the set of theology courses together offered through; At least it’s the plan for now.

The end of last week I watched “Class Introduction” to the first course “Introduction to Theology” of “The Theology Program”. I watched it again with my spouse. It was good enough to sit through twice, or maybe I’m just interested enough in theology so to me it was sufficiently good enough to watch twice.

This should be interesting. we have had a taste of just about every flavor of theology listed in the book, including Roman Catholicism, of which we’ve had quite a bit more than a taste. I have even sampled from theological schools I am not sure are even considered in this book or in the course.  There’s another book on the way, Mosaic of Christian Beliefs by Roger Olson, which has a better chance of mentioning some of these other theological schools.

Over ten years ago my spouse asked me what advanced degree I would get if I could. I thought about theology but chose instead to go for the sociology of religion. For various reasons I did not complete an advanced degree in sociology. Now I wonder if I should have pursued theology.

Even though I have a petty good idea of things about which I will disagree with Dr. Grudem, I’ll not mention them until I reach those points in his book. So far he’s introduced himself as a person who takes a “traditional Reformed position with regard to questions of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, the extent of the atonement, and the question of predestination.” He’s going to have a tough time persuading me buy into any of those traditional reformed positions, as I understand them now.

I’m on the fence about many positions of doctrine. I’ve read the Bible enough and heard interpretations from many theological positions. The books we’re reading for these courses and the course itself should cause us to think through these positions again. I think we could call ourselves eclectic Christians. We’ve sampled too many flavors of theology to say, “We only think our favorite flavor is the one true flavor and there is no merit in any other flavor.” I like chocolate almond fudge ice cream but it doesn’t mean I think rocky road is not valid ice cream. Even maple nut has its place.

Grudem lists sections in other evangelical systematic theology books (and two Roman Catholic) at the end of each chapter which address the topics covered in the chapter. He organized them in seven groups (plus the two Roman Catholic): Anglican (Episcopalian), Arminian (Wesleyan or Methodist), Baptist, Dispensational, Lutheran, Reformed (or Presbyterian), and Renewal (or charismatic/Penticostal). My spouse and I are all over this map and then some. I’ve attended Episcopalian services, I think I’m closest to Arminian theology, and my spouse was raised Methodist. We’ve attended plenty of Baptist congregations and been members of another denomination indistinguishable from Baptist to an outsider (unless they read the sign outside). I don’t know how much Dispensational theology we’ve absorbed (We wouldn’t be surprised if there is a rapture, but we know Dispensational theology has more to it). I was baptized Lutheran and I have a Lutheran/Catholic view of the sacraments, particularly baptism. I grew up attending a Reformed denomination, and we harbor strong Pentecostal sentiments. I also have been exposed to plenty of Adventist thought. We also attended a Greek Orthodox church for several months and went through their “what our church is all about” classes.

Grudem’s book was published about the same time as the Catechism of the Catholic Church came out in English, so it is not one of the two Roman Catholic resources he listed.

The Unseen Realm – Michael S. Heiser

I have begun reading The Unseen Realm – Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible by Dr. Michael S. Heiser.

I doubt anyone will agree with me but, in my mind, it is a non-fiction version of American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

Here’s a quote from the Preface to the Paperback EditionThe Unseen Realm is an encouragement to believe in the sort of spiritual world that has been denigrated or dismissed in our modern, post-Enlightenment culture.”

The author put 15 years of research into this book. What started him on this path of  research was a “watershed moment” when a friend, a fellow student also working toward a PhD in Hebrew studies, asked Michael Heiser to read Psalm 82 closely. This catalyst which changed the way he read his Bible forever appeared already in verse one.

God [elohim] stands in the divine assembly; he administers judgement in the midst of the gods [elohim].

The word elohim appears twice in the same verse, once meaning the God of Israel and the second time is with a preposition indicating plural, a pantheon of other gods.

He spends much of the next couple chapters explaining why the second elohim has to refer to “the sons of God” who are what I’ll call his divine administrative staff. He eliminates all the other interpretations others have put forth by explaining the clear meaning of the Hebrew.

Dr. Heiser was catapulted by Psalm 82 into research and he came to the realization, concerning scripture, he had “tamed its ultimate author” and allowed theological systems not invented until thousands of years later to cloud his interpretations of Old Testament Hebrew. Instead of reading the Old Testament in the way the authors wrote it and the way the original readers read it, he was allowing his modern mind full of rationalism and skepticism of the supernatural cause him to completely miss what difficult passages of scripture were actually saying.

Right now I’d rather read more of The Unseen Realm than write about it, so this is all for tonight.