Book Write-Up: Evangelical Theological Method, Five Views

Stanley E. Porter and Steven M. Studebaker, ed.  Evangelical Theological Method: Five Views.  IVP Academic, 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

This book is part of a series known as the “Spectrum Multiview Books,” published by IVP Academic.  In this book, five scholars present their views on a particular issue, one after the other, then they respond to the other scholars.  The editors of the book, Stanley E. Porter and Steven M. Studebaker, offer an introductory chapter and a concluding chapter that assesses the different perspectives in the book.  The issue in this volume is “evangelical theological method”: How do evangelicals do theology?  What are their emphases and approaches in making statements about God, Christ, and God’s activity and will?

The introductory chapter is entitled “Method in Systematic Theology: An Introduction.”  It is a strong chapter, in that it lays out lucid definitions of methods and terms as well as discusses the sources for theology.  Among the methods and terms that it explains are Propositional Theology, Liberal Theology, Postliberal Theology, Postconservative Theology, the Canonical-Linguistic Approach, and Radical Orthodoxy.  Among the sources that are mentioned are Scripture, religious experience, and the ways that churches have historically interpreted the biblical text.  The chapter offers a summary of the proceeding perspectives.

The first approach, presented by Sung Wook Chung, is more or less propositional: the Bible is a divinely-inspired book that makes propositional statements about God, and interpreters read the Bible to discern the truth about God.  The second approach, that of John R. Franke, stresses the importance of mission: the church has a mission to serve the world in love, in the distinct contexts that the world presents.  The third approach is “Interdisciplinary Theology,” and it is presented by Telford C. Work.  It places the Bible in dialogue with other fields of study, and it discusses homosexuality as a test-case for this.  The fourth approach is “Contextual Theology,” and it affirms that the truth of the Gospel can be applied to different cultural contexts, without the Gospel being compromised.  Victor Ifeanyi Ezigbo contributes this chapter.  Finally, there is “Trinitarian Dogmatic Theology,” contributed by Paul Louis Metzger.  It primarily draws from Karl Barth, who stresses the Trinity’s role in divine revelation.

A question lingered in my mind in reading this book, namely, can any evangelical theological method make a doctrinal statement about God without acknowledging that Scripture makes authoritative propositions?  The first perspective, as was said, is more or less a propositional approach: we have the Bible, which is divine revelation, and we read the Bible to see what it authoritatively declares about God.  Other contributors raised questions or concerns about this approach.  Does it disregard context, particularly the cultural and historical context of the interpreters that shapes how they approach the text and the questions they are asking as they seek to apply it to their own situations?  The concluding essay raises the question of whether it treats the Bible as a univocal text rather than a collection of diverse writings, thereby assuming an inaccurate model of Scripture.  Yet, the other contributors assume doctrinal propositions about God, and they are basing those propositions, by and large, on Scripture.  Whether they realize it or not, they cannot discard the propositional approach, whatever weaknesses they may see in it.  They may recognize the weaknesses, but they do not adequately deal with the weaknesses, and they act as if the weaknesses are not there.  There is also the question of whether the less-than-propositional contributors really go anywhere in showing how their method actually draws theological conclusions.  The contributors critique each other over this, and the final chapter admits that work remains to be done.

That is my overall critique, but the book still has value.  It highlights the tension between needing some foundation or authority for theology, and the existence of theology within a context, as it is applied to people’s real-life situations.  The revealer and the audience of the revelation are both significant, in short.  The introductory chapter is an excellent primer on different theological approaches, even though it left questions in my mind.  For instance, the Postliberal method is anthropocentric in its approach to theology, but does it believe that theology can draw reliable conclusions about God?  Are Christian doctrines true in what they say, beyond the fact that they shape communities and attempt to address human questions?  In a sense, the book hammered home predictable points and made predictable responses to the other perspectives, but it still contained interesting points and details, as the authors illustrated the issues to which their approaches are relevant.  For example, there is this gem by Work: “God may disappoint postcolonial missionaries’ multicultural expectations as much as God frustrated Constantinian missionaries’ civilizing ones” (page 172).  Work’s “response” chapter was more elliptical than the others, but it was also the most intriguing in that I could not tell where he was going to go in his critiques.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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