I showed Hope the book. She just graduated from college. She’s familiar with big books. “I love the margins,” she said. “I love the layout.”
When you are going to spend time with a book, slow study time, the design matters. And Evangelical Theology by Michael Bird is a well-designed book. The margins are wide, more than an inch. The notes are at the foot of the page, where they belong, not at the end where you have to search. The headings and highlights are minimal, giving the broad topic areas, but not giving us a bolded bullet every paragraph or two. From time to time, every thirty pages or so, a gray box will dig deeper into a topic which is related, but not essential to the topic at hand. ( “Karl Barth and Evangelicals” “Jonathan Edward’s a priori Argument for the Trinity” and a few boxes headed “Comic Belief”).
To talk about the design in a review essay seems shallow, like the way an undergrad tries to hide not reading the material. In this case, however, the design reflects the content. The wide margins allow space for the reader to argue and annotate. The footnotes let us trace the sources of the ideas, and, as you come to know the various theological sub-groups, are like a heart monitor, showing us the balance. The absence of predigested headings allows the reader to add the highlighting.
I don’t know enough to know whether I agree with everything Bird writes. Unlike trained systematic theologians who will say, “he’s right here, he steps on the wrong side of the divide there,” I am still learning the nuances of the divides. But I am looking for teachers, and I will return to this classroom again and again.
This is not an idiot’s guide to systematic theology. (It turns out, there isn’t one. Maybe we could write one.) This book takes serious engagement. So I’m not sure that I recommend Evangelical Theology as an orientation guide to the Christian faith.
However, as a teacher and writer and pastor, I need this book. And you need me to need this.
This post is the last 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.
Part 1: a second look at theology
Part 2: A description of beliefs
Part 3: Good writing about complex ideas