Sunday, December 8, 2013

A review of Evangelical Theology by Michael Bird

A review of Evangelical Theology by Michael Bird:

Publisher's description:
"Evangelical Theology is a systematic theology written from the perspective of a biblical scholar. Michael F. Bird contends that the center, unity, and boundary of the evangelical faith is the evangel (gospel), as opposed to things like justification by faith or inerrancy. The evangel is the unifying thread in evangelical theology and the theological hermeneutic through which the various loci of theology need to be understood. Using the gospel as a theological leitmotif---an approach to Christian doctrine that begins with the gospel and sees each loci through the lens of the gospel---this text presents an authentically evangelical theology, as opposed to an ordinary systematic theology written by an evangelical theologian. According to the author, theology is the drama of gospelizing---performing and living out the gospel in the theatre of Christian life. The text features tables, sidebars, and questions for discussion. The end of every part includes a 'What to Take Home' section that gives students a run-down on what they need to know. And since reading theology can often be dry and cerebral, the author applies his unique sense of humor in occasional 'Comic Belief' sections so that students may enjoy their learning experience through some theological humor added for good measure."
I must admit, when I first opened this book I didn't know what to expect.  How do you write a systematic theology for a group as diverse as evangelicals?  How do you even define what the average evangelical is?  Michael Bird approached this by centering his work on the "evangel", the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is a different approach than a standard systematic theology would have. His approach, in his own words was to create ..."a theology textbook that has its content, structure, and substance singularly determined by the evangel."
In exchange for receiving a copy of this book I was asked to review part 5, which is the GOSPEL OF SALVATION, so that is what my review is going to cover (the book is over 800 pages long).  
I must say I found the layout of this book confusing.  First off, Dr. Bird doesn't deal with the nature of man (anthropology) until chapter 7, normally that would be one of the first things addressed in a work like this.  How can you talk about the good news until you understand the bad?
Another weakness is the absence of any treatment of Scriptural innerancy and interpretation and no holding to a historic reformed and confessional position.This leads to feeling like you are getting one theologians opinon not historic, evangelical theology.
One example was the author's dealing with Calvinism versus Arminianism, he agreed with election but seemed sympathetic to Arminian postions on other things.  Then when mentioning the new perspective on Paul he seemed overly sympathetic, I thought he should have drawn a harder line against it. 
I think my biggest issue with this book is the authors treatment of justification, some care is needed here as you read this section.  He abandons the doctrine of imputation for something he calls incorporation.  I found this confusing and not helpful at all.  I just didn't understand his logic and don't understand why you would abandon something as comforting, historical, and biblical as imputation to come up with something new.  Anytime I see that, I get very uncomfortable and then I begin wondering what else may be off.
All that being said, overall Michael Bird's treatment of salvation in chapter 5 was helpful and I will use this book as a resource, I plan on going through the rest of this book as I have time.  So I would give this book 3 stars out of 5, but of course I'm only reviewing Chapter 5.   I'm not sure I can recommend going out and paying fifty dollars for this book, but if you could get it on sale it would be worth adding to your library. 

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