Good writing about complex ideas.

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. 

My friend Troy watched one of Michael Bird’s videos and said, “Does his book read like this? He doesn’t seem overly dry like some. While by nature I am sure it was a challenging read–is it less than overly awkward?”

That is a perfect question to ask of 900 pages of theology (which is a lot like philosophy, if that’s a more familiar image). Troy’s question reminds me of the first time I seriously read philosophy (as opposed to my Intro to Philosophy course, where I didn’t try to understand.) I read a page. I realized that I didn’t have any idea what I read. So I read it again. I realized that I didn’t have any idea what I read. So I read it again. I began to understand that philosophy reads differently than Lord of the Rings. And I understood that each is worth reading and are related.

Bird’s style of writing is a delight to me. Troy is right. I have to concentrate to follow the line of thought. But not because it is hard writing, rather, it is good writing about complex ideas.

Here are four ways that Bird’s style helps me stay engaged.

1. He acknowledges his presence in the process. 

There are many points of theology at which there are divergent, unprovable ideas. Bird uses the first person in suggesting his own perspective.

“The origins of gnosticism are widely disputed, especially whether its origins are in paganism, in Judaism, or in Christianity. I tend to think…”

2. There is a precision in his descriptions of even small elements. 

Bird writes, “In Luke’s digest of the sermon, Paul says…” (173). This reference to a speech Paul gave in Athens rightly (I tend to think) points out that Luke wasn’t giving a word-for-word transcript of a speech that would have been much longer, given the speaking environment. While Bird doesn’t take time to prove that point, his simple use of the word “digest” captures a perspective. 

3. His language is full of imagery and play.

Here are three examples:

  • …humans use the pantheon to legitimate the malevolence and machinations of mischievous monarchs. 146
  • The gospel is umbilically connected to wider concepts of covenant and creation. 140
  • However, there is something extra-extra special about the incarnation. 172

I smile often as I read. I think that this vividness comes from this book starting as course lectures. And while, at times, I think that there could be some additional editing to this book, I’m afraid the life is what would be cut.

4. He writes sentences that capture ideas that take me pages and years to think through. 

The eternal decision of God to be God-in-Christ-for-the-sake-of-others and to make inglorious beings partakers of the exclusive glory is God’s final purpose. 217

That sentence may not help you at all. For me, it clarifies a line of reasoning in a way that I can’t explain with my fingers but you will see, if you stick around, in my heart.

 More about Evangelical Theology by Michael Bird tomorrow. 


4 thoughts on “Good writing about complex ideas.

  1. emilyinmaine

    I’m not sure if I want to thank you or to be upset with you…. I’m beginning to find myself thinking I would like to read this book! Like I have time to read 900 pages of theology! Thank you, though, you are really challenging and changing my opinions about theology ‘geeks’. Blessings.


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