Monday, February 3, 2014

"Exploring Christian Theology" by Nathan Holsteen & Michael Svigel: A Review

For some people, the word doctrine summons yawns of tedium, shudders of trepidation, or frowns of suspicion. Dogmatic preachers exasperate them, feuding denominations weary them, and droning scholars bore them.

When people hear theology, the condition sometimes worsens. They picture massive tomes packed with technical discussions, less-than, crucial data, and incomprehensible footnotes - unusable information to distract them from God rather than drawing them nearer.

Most people seeking to grow in their faith want practical principles, not theoretical concepts. They want to know God, not just know about Him.

Yet the fact is that we can't experience real spiritual growth without solid spiritual truth. We can't know the true God without knowing God truly. (9)

Studying theology can be a real source of joy and spiritual growth. Yet for many, particularly in America today, studying theology is mundane and not worth an investment. "Just give me that good old time religion." As the above quote suggests, the general editors of the series and the author of the book Exploring Christian Theology: The Church, Spiritual Growth, and the End Times (Bethany, 2014) seek to pen a book that provides a thorough survey of theological doctrines complete with biblical exegesis, historical developments, and practical application.

The Exploring Christian Theology is a series published by Bethany House that seeks to introduce not just the nuts and bolts of theology, but also its importance. As a pastor I could not be more thrilled to have the opportunity to review one of its volumes.  In this volume, Drs. Nathan Holsteen and Michael Svigel tackle the doctrines of ecclesiology and sanctification (Dr. Holsteen) and Eschatology (Dr. Svigel). Both follow the same pattern: A survey of the doctrine, followed by biblical exegesis, a historic considerations, a summary of the doctrine, and dangers to avoid, and finally some practical applications.

The authors and editors make clear this is a book and a series that is concerned with providing a general overview of Christian theology located within orthodox evangelicalism, not with defending certain tertiary convictions. For example, the authors defending the bodily return of Jesus and a physical resurrection of believers without promoting premillenialism over amillenialism or postmillenialism. The authors provide a helpful survey of these eschatologies but do not prefer one over the other. Thus those looking for an introduction to Reformed, Arminian, or dispensational theology will be disappointed. However, that does not mean the authors do not include these theologies throughout the book.

Overall, this is a straight forward theological textbook. Its audience is clear and the authors/editors accomplish presenting sound theology that is relevant. One thing I found interesting thing about the book regards the first section. There Dr. Holsteen discusses both ecclesiology and sanctification. This, to me, was perhaps the most insightful part of the book. Dr. Holsteen suggests that in many ways we cannot separate those two. One danger common in American Christianity is the belief that spiritual growth is a personal matter. By grouping these two together, the authors show how biblically this is simply inaccurate.

Finally, this book is a great tool for pastors who have an obligation to preach doctrinally. Simply feeding one's flock with the saturated Christianity full with bumper sticker slogans damages the sheep. We need more sound theology and biblical exegesis. Yet such preaching need not be impractical. The authors have put together a volume discussing the weighty issues of ecclesiology, sanctification, and eschatology all while showing why they matter and how to apply it to the lives of our flock.

I look forward to seeing what the other volumes have to offer.

I received this book free of charge from Bethany House for the purpose of this review.

For more from Bethany House:
"Reasons to Believe" by Norman Geisler and Patty Tunnicliffe: A Review
"Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day" by Dr. Daryl Aaron: A Review
"Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day" by Garry R. Norman: A Review

For more:
The Goal of Theology: To Be Gospelized
The God of the Gospel: A Review of Michael Bird's Theology Proper
"Life's Biggest Questions" by Erik Thoennes
"Mapping Modern Theology" Edited by Kelly Kapic and Bruce McCormack: A Review
"Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day" by Dr. Daryl Aaron: A Review
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