A theology answers the question, “What does this tribe believe about God?” A theology book describes that theology. It’s useful for people who are part of the tribe, it’s helpful for people who are studying the tribe.
But though it is related to the beliefs of people, a theology is different than a poll. A poll addresses a series of questions to a sampling of people. The averages define the beliefs. A theology looks at the foundational documents of a group and the teachings about those documents. Ideally, the beliefs define the averages.
At its best, a theology book describes the core beliefs with clarity, if not with neutrality. Years ago, I read that an objective theology is impossible. If you don’t believe in God, you are writing fiction. If you do believe in God, your objectivity is already compromised.
Michael Bird, in his new Evangelical Theology, doesn’t pretend to be objective.
Theology, then, is our attempt to deepen our relationship with God by having a more profound knowledge of his person and workings. By engaging in concerted theological study we aspire to become mature and fully assured” (Col 4:12) and thus “truly [understand] God’s grace” (Col 1:6). 58
That said, Bird works hard to systematically describe the theology of those who put the ‘evangel’ – the Gospel – at the center of their faith and practice. And he is working to put the Gospel at the center of a theology. Because a theology can be shaped by people, gradually. And it can shape people, gradually
Because a theology is typically a big book, interacting with it is a slow process, suited more for seminars than tweets. Though we are tempted to say, “that’s crazy” or “everyone should believe this”, the scope of the subject matter pushes us to reserve our judgments until we see the whole. Bird’s style fosters this conversation rather than confrontation.
In the next two days, I’ll talk more about his style and about the content of his book.
This post is part of a review of Evangelical Theology by Michael Bird. I received a review copy in exchange for participating in a blog tour and offering a review here and at Amazon.