This review first appeared at Lifeway’s Pastors Today web-blog.
Daniel L. Akin. A Theology for the Church: Revised Edition. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2014. 770 pp. $54.99.
Every solid systematic theology organizes core doctrines of the Christian faith into helpful categories. Each category engages pertinent Scriptures exegetically and canonically, judiciously retrieves Church tradition, methodically synthesizes exegesis and tradition into theological constructs, and employs contextual engagement in the spirit of the men of Issachar: “men who understood the times” (1 Chron. 12:32).
Though most systematic theologies do those four tasks, few are organized by those tasks. A Theology for the Church refreshingly does this. This systematic theology consists of eight conventional sections: Revelation, God, Humanity, Christ, Holy Spirit, Salvation, Church, and Last Things. There are fourteen chapters altogether, and each chapter has four sections: What Does the Bible Say?, What Has the Church Believed?, How Does It All Fit Together?, and How Does This Doctrine Impact the Church Today?.
Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the general editor of this project. Contributors include Russell Moore, David Dockery, Timothy George, Mark Dever, and Al Mohler among others. In the preface, the editorial committee writes, “Each participant in this project is a confessional theologian and churchman. They are evangelical and baptistic in their commitments, and they believe, as do I, that the task of theology must be recovered in the church if it is to have vitality and health in the twenty-first century” (viii).
This revision of A Theology for the Church includes two entirely new chapters, chapter one on an introduction to the task of theology by Bruce Riley Ashford and Keith Whitfield and chapter five on creation and providence by Chad Owen Brand. In addition, chapter three on special revelation by David S. Dockery and chapter seven on human nature by John S. Hammett underwent substantial revisions.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
Al Mohler reminds us in the closing chapter of A Theology for the Church:
“In reality there is no dimension of the pastor’s calling that is not deeply, inherently, and inescapably theological. The pastor will encounter no problem in counseling that is not specifically theological in character.” (724)
Thus, every pastor, at all times in ministry, should read a systematic theology. Reading a systematic theology at a crawl is better than not reading one at all. In reading one, Pastors find doctrinal truth to be experiential truth fittingly applicable to everyday church members, the spiritually interested, and reprobates. For this reason, A Theology for the Church keeps in mind this pastoral audience.
As the introductory paragraph presents, the undergirding priority of a stellar systematic theology is exegetical engagement of Scripture. This is where A Theology for the Church shines. Akin’s chapter on the person of Christ showcases this.
For thirty pages Akin canonically covers the Old and New Testament understanding of the person of Christ. Key Old Testament passages from Genesis, Psalms, Isaiah, and others are addressed. Likewise, essential Christological texts like John 1, Philippians 2, Colossians 1, and Hebrew 1 receive extensive treatment. Finally, Akin synthetically treats the life of Christ with careful scrutiny.
A Theology for the Church also judiciously retrieves church tradition. As scholars interact with past tomes of systematic theology, they highlight contributions while honestly addressing shortcomings.
For instance, in chapter one’s introduction to the task of theology, the contributors praise Augustine for how “his theology can be viewed as the pinnacle of theological reflection in the patristic period” (19). Meanwhile, they gently critique Augustine’s theological method in footnote thirty-six, “As we noted, Augustine struggled to contextualize faithfully, as he sometimes drew from pagan philosophy in inappropriate and unhelpful manners” (20).
Now don’t let that critical footnote confuse you. It’s not that Augustine contextualized, but he did so deficiently. Contributors to A Theology for the Church synthesize exegesis and tradition into a theological method that harnesses philosophy, reason and cultural engagement.
Hammet’s chapter seven on human nature provides a pristine example of this. He synthesizes biblical study and historical tradition into helpful conclusions, arguing that humans are creatures (315) with personhood (316) and complex constitutions (317). They are specially created (320) with two unique but distinct gender roles (321) that multiply (322), enrich one another (323), and are called (325) to do work for the glory of God (326) but to rest as well (327). Along the way Hammet engages hot button issues like the historicity of Adam (316), Feminism (311-12), and views of the Sabbath (327).
As you can see, it is a noble challenge to produce a single-volume systematic theology, let alone for a team of contributors to effectually achieve this result by offering continuity of approach, structure, and engagement. I believe that A Theology for the Church is one of the finer systematic theologies to undertake and triumph at this sizable task.
After spending a couple months with my copy, I testify to A Theology for the Church’s scholarly caliber and scriptural fidelity. This study succeeds at making doctrine nourishing to the soul.
Essential Recommended Helpful Pass It By
A Theology for the Church connects pastors to doctrine that commits them to the local church.