Monday, July 11, 2016

"What Christians Ought to Believe" by Michael Bird: A Review

If you ask me, the Apostles' Creed is probably the best syllabus ever devised for teaching basic Christian beliefs. (13)

There are numerous ways of teaching Christian theology from the academic to the popular. One of the best ways to learn the basics of orthodox Christianity is through the classic creeds of the faith. The most widely recognized creeds is the Apostle's Creed and Michael F. Bird's new book, What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine Through the Apostles' Creed (Zondervan, 2016) is a study of Christian theology through a systematic study of this classic creed.

Bird is best known as a New Testament scholar but has written extensively on the subject of theology. Most notably is his 2013 book Evangelical Theology. This book is much briefer and, as the title suggests, teaches Christian theology by walking the reader through the doctrine of this famous creed.

Bird weaves both biblical and historic theology throughout the book. At the same time, he handles any criticism or controversies regarding the creed. In terms of theology, Bird is orthodox and there is little I would find worthy of great critic here. Though each doctrine is only surveyed instead of given a deeper treatment (that is the nature of the book), one could easily nitpick. I would assume many, including myself, would want to tweak some of his conclusions regarding the atonement, but even then I am largely in agreement with him.

In regards to the more difficult parts of the creed, Bird embraces the classic creed whole-heartedly. Most notably here regards Jesus's descent into Hades after his death. Bird embraces this and even interacts with Wayne Grudem's contrary opinion. Bird argues that "there is no line in the creed more misunderstood and more neglected than this one" (143) and thus lays out for the reader precisely what happened on Saturday. My primary concern is whether Scripture is as clear on this point as Bird is. Does Scripture clearly, outside of a single parable told by Jesus in Luke's Gospel, describe Hades as a bifurcated waiting place for the righteous and unrighteous? Does the Bible clearly teach that "Jesus preached the good news of his victory to the wicked in Hades?" (145) Does the Bible clearly teach that "Jesus set the saints of old free from Hades and took them up into heaven?" (145) I'm not so convinced.

Nevertheless, Bird offers an helpful introduction to Christian theology. Although at times the author gets bogged down with academic controversies, he largely writes on the popular level. I would recommend this to most readers interested in theology in general and historic/systematic theology in particular.
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