Systematic theologies are invaluable resources for the church. They are as varied as the authors who write them and some are more beneficial than others. The preponderance of systematic theologies are written by individuals within a denominational/theological tradition. While there are many books on specific topics written by various contributors, this is not the case with systematic theologies. So it is unique and a bit refreshing when a systematic theology does comes along that breaks the individual author mold.
One of these few contributions is A Theology for the Church, Revised Edition edited by Daniel L. Akin. First published in 2007, the revised edition has new chapters on theological method from a missional perspective by Bruce Ashford and Keith Whitfield and a theology of creation, providence, and Sabbath by Chad Owen Brad which engages current research in science and philosophy. Additionally, the chapters on special revelation by David Dockery and human nature by John Hammett have been updated.
A Theology for the Church follows the standard outline of systematic theology starting with the doctrine of revelation and concluding with the doctrine of the end times. Each chapter approaches these doctrines through a fourfold pattern: (1) What does the Bible say? (2) What has the church believed? (3) How does it all fit together? and (4) How does this doctrine impact the church today?
In addressing What does the Bible Say? the authors approach their work by walking through the unfolding of Scripture (Genesis to Revelation) and so so in a variety of ways. Some chapters (natural revelation and person of Christ) walk through specific passages of Scripture to answer this question. Others (special revelation, human nature, and the church) address the doctrine topically while supporting it with Scripture, much like most systematic theologies are written. Still others employ these methods and more. In the chapter on the doctrine of God Timothy George explores the nature of God by looking at His attributes and names as revealed in Scripture. In R. Stanton Norman’s chapter on human sinfulness he looks at the various terms in Scripture used to describe the nature of man and the chapter on eschatology breaks it down between the testaments.
What marks the first section of the chapters is a clear desire to be faithful to the text of Scripture. The original languages and context are considered exegetically. The relationship between the testaments are mentioned where applicable. The contributors are not seeking to carve out their own names but are focused on declaring “Thus says the Lord” on every doctrine.
Following the first section is the section on What has the church believed? in which the authors provide a brief 30,000 foot view from the sky outline of how the church, in different denominations, eras, and significant theologians, has understood these doctrines. Most of the chapters provide a summary of thought from the Patristic, Medival, Reformation, and Modern periods. Some chapters (like natural and special revelation, angels, and eschatology) have an additional section on the Baptist understanding in history. Further, some chapters are much more expansive in their historical treatment such as the chapter on natural revelation which presents the theology of individuals and eras.
While an historical look at a doctrine can often be the weakest section of a systematic theology, this section is helpful, if for no other reason, then to show that the history of Christian thought on doctrine is not as monolithic as some suggest or wish. In a book like this that is decidedly Baptist in nature, it is welcoming to see the writers show where their understanding fits against the backdrop of 2,000 years of previous thought and reflection on Scripture. My only critique of this section is that for a book that is Baptist in nature it would have been more fitting to have a Baptist section in every chapter and not just some.
The third section How does it all fit together? seeks to systematize what was explored and discussed in the What does the Bible say? section while drawing on the What has the church believed? section. Here the doctrinal conclusions are formulated while humbling acknowledging the tension that we, as theologians and readers of the text, though finite in our understanding, can know and understand when God speaks because we are made in God’s image with the ability to communicate. While there is some overlap in this section and the first section because the Biblical text is discussed in both, this section seeks to systematize the Biblical data and draw reasonable conclusions.
While all of the contributors are Baptist it is in this section that one can begin to see differences in theology that go beyond their polity. For instance, while Al Mohler Jr., Timothy George, Mark Dever are Calvinists in their soteriology, those who wrote the key chapters covering salvation issues (Paige Patterson covering the atonement in The Work of Christ and Kenneth Keathley covering election in The Work of God: Salvation) are not Calvinists. This is not a criticism, merely an observation. Further, there is a clear difference between the eschatology of Mark Dever, who wrote the chapter on the church and is an amillennialist, and Russell Moore, who writes the chapter on eschatology and is a pre-tribulationalist. While Dever does not believe the Church is Israel (606) he does seem to pair them in closer connection together than Moore does (706-08).
In the final section How does this doctrine impact the church today? the contributors seek to bring relevance to what has been discussed in the three previous sections. Most of these sections are good and some are much shorter than others. It is here that some of the theological differences between the contributors will come more to light and readers might express more disagreement with. All in all, there is much to learn from these sections.
A Theology for the Church tips its hat to whom it serves in its title – the Church. While they do not shy away from theological language and interaction with the original languages, the contributors have written a systematic theology that serves their Baptist audience. This book is thoroughly Evangelical, exegetically grounded in Scripture, historically sensitive, and its practical application is both timeless and timely.
I recommend this systematic theology alongside others that have become staples for Baptists and all Evangelicals alike.
I received this book for free from B&H for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”