Review: The Moody Handbook of Theology from Paul Enns

9780802411983__40264.1391031816.1280.1280Systematic Theology is all the rage these days. It seems that once a year someone is “radically” systematizing the faith for us in a way that was more understandable than the last great volume. Owning several volumes on ST myself, I find it a nice escape when a text comes along that is both easily readable and immensely practical. Paul Enns has written such a text with The Moody Handbook of Theology. This substantial, yet practical volume is not a new one by any means. First published in 1989, this handbook has helped many through the years to build up their new faith, and to solidify their continuing faith in Christ.

Since the original publish date, the Christian world has seen a shift in some important theological ideologies, hence the need for an updated version. This update version includes shifts in three important areas: postmodern theology, post-evangelical theology, and Reformed Theology. Enns notes that, “The chapter on Reformed theology arguably should have been included in the first edition (although the major aspects that make up Reformed theology were included in the discussion of Calvinistic theology and covenant theology in the original edition). The new chapter will answer the question, How is Reformed theology different from Calvinism?”

As a 30,000 foot view of the forest is helpful for seeing the entirety of the forest, so it is with the same approach to theology. Enns takes us through 5 facets of theology as we begin our flyover: Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, Historical Theology, Dogmatic Theology, and Contemporary Theology. Though I’m not sure of some of the placements of various aspects of theology, the topics covered are sufficiently undertaken as we take a look at each section.

Our trek begins with Biblical Theology as Enns takes us from Genesis and leaves us at the end of Jude feeling satisfied with the amount of information given in each Testament. Enns is careful not to leave the reader overwhelmed with such a daunting subject but dishes out us enough information to whet our thirst for more. At the end of this section I felt adequately able to pass an entry exam into the school that is BT but also felt that I would not be able to hold more than a surface discussion on the issue.

The “meatiest” section of the book comes in the form of Systematic Theology. As we progress through the doctrines of the Bible, again Enns gives us a flyover view, but digs in a little deeper in this section. He is careful to present a balanced view of each doctrine and makes sure to point out where certain traditions stray from the bible in their understanding of each doctrine. Our study in section 2 is supplemented with charts which are helpful for organizing our system of doctrine, which is the ultimate goal of this section.

Here we come to my favorite section, Historical Theology. Enns traces the development of doctrine from the first century church to the present time. He covers the 4 main areas; Ancient, Medieval, Reformation and Modern theology. Enns is sure to keep the main point in mind as he covers some 2000 years of doctrinal developments. He does this in winsome fashion as he highlights pivotal moments in the history of theology. A helpful feature of this section is in considering the various controversies which arose from this period. Without drowning the reader in names and dates, Enns keeps it short and highlights the controversy in terms of its main proponents and the ideas which separated them from orthodoxy.

From the meat we move onto the proverbial potatoes, if you will, into a facet of theology often confused with its big brother ST. Many of us have not even heard of Dogmatic Theology so a quick definition which Enns gives comes in handy. “The word Dogma comes from a Greek and Latin word meaning ‘that which is held as an opinion’ and may also denote ‘a doctrine or body of doctrines of theology and religion formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church.” From this definition one can clearly see where the confusion with ST would come from. While dogma is a word often used in the West, it may be due to the fact that the term is more common in countries like Germany and Holland than it is in the UK and North America.

The final section we come to is vitally important to Christians, in that, we find ourselves in the midst of these debates and controversies today. Here Enns faces down theologies like Evangelical Feminism, Post-Evangelical, and Postmodern theologies. As Enns has done throughout the book he presents the arguments in vivid clarity as he remains ever diligent to point the reader to the Scriptures for the correct conclusions to the varied discussions. He also aids the reader with charts which compare and contrast the views in question.

I think Enns has produced an updated version of an immensely helpful volume. Not only has he given us a very broad range of things to consider, he also invites us to learn more by including at the end of each section information on other books which are more pointedly concerned about each topic. He lists these resources in terms of readers ability to grasp and understand the material. At over 700 pages, this material is certainly not an afternoon read but it is presented in a very digestible format.

The Moody Handbook of Theology
Paul Enns/Moody Publishers, 2014
Review Copy Courtesy of Moody Publishers 

 

Review: The Theology of Jonathan Edwards from Oxford Univ. Press

theology_jonathan_edwardsOn October 05, 1703, a light came on in East Windsor, Connecticut. Jonathan Edwards was born into a family with a ministerial legacy which the young Edwards would carry on with resounding force. Born the only male in the midst of ten siblings, Edwards would go on to become, arguably, the greatest theologian America would produce. Thrust into the midst of a congregation, whose communion practice would later become a point of contention between Edwards and his grandfather Solomon Stoddard, Edwards began to see early on a kind of first fruits which would be a shadow of what his own ministry would become.

As a homeschooled youth, Edwards was schooled in a classical way which included the study of ancient languages, Roman-Greco classics, and Reformed theology. A truly gifted youth, Latin became a second language to him at the age of six, and by the age of twelve he was reading in Greek with a working knowledge of Hebrew. One month shy of thirteen, Edwards would head off to Connecticut Collegiate School (which later became Yale) and matriculated at the ripe old age of sixteen. The usual course of study consisted of grammar, rhetoric, logic, ancient history, metaphysics, and ethics. On top of these, studies in Calvin, Owen, and a complete memorization of Marrow of Theology, from the Puritan Ames, was required.

After graduating at the top of his class and being Valedictorian, Edwards pursued graduate studies for two years at Yale. Promptly after completing his studies Edwards entered the pulpit and began to write treatises and diary entries which would end up filling more than fifty volumes. As a preacher in an English Presbyterian congregation in New York, Edwards began his Miscellanies, a theological notebook he kept which would one day be composed of more than one million words.  At 19, Edwards began to recast his idea of Calvinism against the growing Arminianism and deism of his day. It is during this time which he accepted a position at Yale, which we would call the President today, and began to oppose a crypto-Catholic Arminian heresy which he saw taking place at Yale.

In 1734 the first inkling of revival broke out after Edwards preached two sermons on justification by faith. The authors point out that Edwards went further than the early reformers on this idea. They note that, “He declaimed against, on one hand, thinking that our works save us, and on the other, thinking that ‘good works [are] not necessary to salvation’. In other words, he opposed Pelagians (who say unaided free will can keep God’s commandments) and Arminians (who believe God waits for us to take the initiative in salvation and sanctification) on the one hand, and Antinomians (literally, ‘against the law’) on the other. Here is where, in my thinking, the highlights of Edwards’ life shine through.

One cannot think of Edwards without thinking of the revival which he found himself in the midst of, whether that meant good or bad things for him. Edwards oversaw awakenings, both among the colonies on the eastern shoreline, and in a broader sense when his writings went international. He wrote extensively on the subject of revival, engaging the revivalists both theologically and practically as a pastor. His revival writings include; Faithful Narrative of a Surprising work of God (1737), The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival (1743), Religious Affections (1746), and Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer (1748).

In this section on Edwards’ theology of revival and a section at the beginning of Part Three, the authors make an interesting correlation between the revivals of John Wesley in Europe and the experience of Edwards in the colonies. As a middleman, George Whitfield would preach revival sermons in both countries with amazing results. Somewhat of a catalyst, Whitefield would visit both parties as a friend even though the trifecta had differing revival theology. Whitfield, a strong Calvinist, would speak against the excessive compulsions which the revival preaching would have on the physical body upon hearing the preached word of both Wesley and Edwards. While Edwards found himself on the side of Whitfield, to a point, he did find himself agreeing with Wesley on some aspects of the revival. It is interesting to note that when the Pentecost/Charismatic revivals broke out in 1900, they quoted from Wesley, a self-avowed Arminian, extensively and largely left the Calvinist-leaning Edwards out of the     equation altogether.

There are many other areas of Edwards theology which the authors tough on and to tackle the entire corpus of Edwards work would be an inexhaustible text. This volume does an excellent job of drawing upon Edwards theology with unbiased research and clear writing. For me the meat is found in Edwards revival theology and the legacy that left on his disciples like Samuel Hopkins, though later Hopkins would divert strongly from the original trajectory of Edwardsean thought. This tome on Edwards will serve as an excellent starting point for those seeking an introductory work on his context and the events that shaped his thinking.

At the end of the section on revival the authors make the point that after a, “Retrospect of three centuries, the transatlantic revivals of the 1730’s and 1740’s—with Edwards as their leading theological interpreter—left a sizeable legacy. It is called evangelicalism. They close out the volume with a similar statement bridging the gap between various denominations and theological camps. “Imagine a Christian dialogue today that included adherents of ancient churches—Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic—with various modern church bodies—Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Disciples of Christ—as well as an ample representation from the newer evangelical and Pentecostal-Charismatic congregations from around the world. If one had to choose our modern thinker—and only one—to function as a point of reference for theological interchange and dialogue, then who might one choose?

Our answer should be clear.

 

The Theology of Jonathan Edwards
Michael J. McClymond & Gerald R. McDermott/Oxford University Press, 2012
Review Copy Courtesy of Oxford University Press