Matthew Adams

About Matthew Adams

Matt's Blog
Matt is a student at the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary pursuing a Masters of Divinity. He lives in Colorado, making his home at Grace Church where he helps teach Bible Studies and Theology to Young Adults. His passion is to teach the importance of the Old Testament for Christian life.



6 Resources for Beginner Biblical Linguists

Yes, you say, but many of the fathers were saved and even became teachers without the languages. That is true. But how do you account for the fact that they so often erred in the Scriptures?…” – Martin Luther

Nothing puts the fear of God into Bible students quite like the daunting Biblical language course requirements in their degree.  Students who once boasted high and mightily of their proud theology, or ability to just “do life together” find themselves utterly bereft of help amidst this cataract.

6 Resources for Beginner Biblical Linguists

“Calvin!  Calvin! To the TULIP!” Reformer fanboys once cried as the end all answer, forgetting that they only see his Latin and French through a glass, darkly.

“All we need is Jesus and life connections!” come the reply from the rest.

“No!  Know the Languages!  They spoke of him!” a professor would reply.  “Aides and displays of ignorance fall before the mighty beast that is Languages.  Know it yourself.”

As Luther admitted, one can get by without the biblical languages in the Christian faith.  You can come to saving faith and formulate a decent theology to be sure. The translators of our English (or your native tongue) put in a great deal of effort to produce them.  They are experts in their fields, and did their best to render the Scriptures in another language. Their work is the nobilest duty a Christian can perform. I would have been lost without my ESV who has now found a suitable helper in my CSB.

The problem, however, is that you can only just get by. The translators know both sides of the language divide, whereas many of us can only read the Scriptures from one. When they say “run” they know its particular nuance. The… Click To Tweet

To put it in nerdy language: you will be able watch your movie in 480p black and white and understand the purpose of the narrative.  We can all agree, however, that 4K makes for a much better viewing experience. It was in color that the Reformers chose to watch their Netflix after all.

David crying to God for a cleansed heart (Ps. 51), which for Americans draws upon notions of our emotions, takes on a much fuller meaning in David’s native tongue.  He beseeches God for a new levav which not only functions in Israelite thought as the place of emotions, but of critical thinking and decision making as well.  It encompassed our American concepts of “mind” and “heart” to describe the whole inner person of the Israelite.

David did not ask for cleansed feelings only, but for a new means of being human.  Dare I say, an entirely new way of being David. His levav, emotionally and mentally, lead him to adultery and the murder of faithful soldiers (2 Sam. 11:14-17).  He begged God to scrub away the inner corruption of all his faculties.

The sum of his being, the experiences that shaped him and called him to respond, had still left him destitute here  He had followed his heart when it called to him, and it lead him astray. His heart was deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9). The English was good and sufficient to a point, but the Hebrew was fuller.

So if God has disposed you to take up the study, take it up!  You will be enriched beyond your wildest dreams, the blank edges of your Bible being filled in as you live and breathe their words.  I hope these resources will prove useful to you, even if they only point you towards a more fruitful suggestion.

Again, I have stuck to works that I know personally.  There are many more out there, each with their own unique strength.

 

1.Beginning Biblical Hebrew by Mark Futato

At first I was put off by the stark white pages contrasted against the black and blue font of the book.  While this may sound ludicrous (of course books are black and white), you will know what I mean when you crack open a page.  The book is not very easy on the eyes at first glance, especially in certain types of lighting. So why am I recommending what sounds like an eyesore?

Chill, your eyes will adjust.

Futato’s “division of labor” when it comes to learning Hebrew is natural.  Not too much is thrown at the student per chapter which is a huge blessing for beginners.  As it has been described to me by past professors, the difficulty level of Hebrew and Greek are inverted.  

Greek is fairly easy early on, but exponentially grows in difficulty the further you go. Hebrew is the reverse.  It begins with a steep, near 90 degree incline as you grapple with a very “alien” alphabet and strange pronunciations (many of which you will not be able to make unless you take professional linguist courses).  Worse, unlike Greek you must train your eyes and mind to read from right-to-left rather than left-to-right.

Finally, while it may sound simple, having an entire vocabulary built upon a three consonant system (more often than not) with little dashes and dots to designate vowels gets muddled quickly in your head.

Often I have had to send Qamets Hatuf into a corner and think about what he has done, while Qibbuts gets a cookie for being so gosh-darn recognizable and rare.  You will know what I mean when you get there in the grammar.

The benefit is, once you have cleared that incline, the difficulty level of Hebrew begins to plateau as it sticks to normal patterns.  Variations occur due to many factors, but that will likely fall into the roughly 10% category of what you will be reading from that point on.

That is except for the Psalms.  The Psalms are the stuff of lingual nightmares.

This is why Futato is helpful.  His textbook gradually helps the student become accustomed to the characters and vocabulary.  While the definitions of certain words are occasionally too basic, it is just enough to build confidence that you can in fact learn another language.  I personally enjoyed the division of verbal stems.

Some grammars make you flip between multiple chapters to see the entire spread, but here they are often in one convenient chapter and appendices.  I also own A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew by C.L. Seow, one of Princeton’s Hebrew grammars, and I can attest how helpful it is to have everything located in one to two chapters.  This is not to discount the useful of Seow’s grammar, but to emphasize that each grammar has a particular strength.

What is better is that Futato comes with its own set of questions for you to practice with after every chapter.  This is essential for retaining the language and becoming accustomed to treating it as genuine language.

 

2.Invitation to Biblical Hebrew by Russell Fuller & Kyoungwon Choi


You just recommended two Hebrew Grammars, really Matt?  Yes I did, and with good reason. Having Fuller’s grammar to compare with Futato’s I found to be very helpful when studying Hebrew.  The thing with Hebrew morphemes (no I did not make that word up) is that … well they are weird.

Hebrew is obsessed with keeping its vocab short and sweet as you add prefixes and suffixes.  Greek functions is the opposite manner, their words get longer and longer as you add prefixes and suffixes. Hebrew morphology involves consonants dropping out, vowel sounds being reduced, etc. in a maddening effort to keep their guttural language moving.  

Sometimes, the difference between one noun and another, or verbal sense, is one alteration. How does one account for these changes? Is there no rhyme or reason?

This is where Fuller is helpful.  There are two schools of thought when it comes to teaching Biblical Hebrew which can be divided along the lines of how deep to focus on the grammatical rules.  Fuller takes the approach to teach the depths of grammar, which in the case of understanding morphology is beneficial.

Chapter six is crucial to get down, and even now as I have used other grammars and practice translating I have found his insights extremely helpful in understanding what I see and why.  

I would not recommend it as your primary grammar, but a useful aid alongside others. To get the full use out of this book, you will need to purchase the accompanying workbook as well.

 

3.Basics of Biblical Greek by William Mounce

Where to begin with Mounce’s grammar?  It is as near perfect of a language grammar as I have encountered so far.  Together with the accompanying workbook (sold separately), this was the textbook used by both my undergraduate and seminary Greek courses.  

I actually first cut my teeth on Greek in seminary, and due to the nature of my online class and personal schedule, I had to heavily rely on the book rather than synopsis lectures provided by my professor.  With that said: I got an A in Greek. I was equally amazed that I got this grade because this was my first time taking an online course.

That is how good the book is and why I still return to it when I need to freshen up my basics. I guarantee anyone could pick up the book and have little trouble grasping the basics of the language.

Like Futato, Mounce gradually introduces the reader to the Greek language.  First off is the basic nouns, pronouns and adjectives with the accompanying suffixes that designate word order and function.  This is what Mounce calls “the fog” (see pp 38). Unlike Hebrew which has a generally regular word order (i.e. Verb, subject, object), Greek is entirely dependent on suffixes to indicate word order within its clauses.  These, however, are fairly easy to recognize once you know what to look for, and so the reader should not stress out that the subject matter is beyond them. To quote from the book:

You are now entering the fog.  You will have read this chapter and think you understand it -and perhaps you do- but it will seem foggy.  That’s okay. If living in the fog becomes discouraging, look two chapters back and you should understand that chapter clearly.  In two more chapters this chapter will be clear, assuming you keep studying.” -pp38

However, I would caution readers to beware “the second fog” as I will call it.  I say this as a personal warning. Beginning in chapter 26 through the end of the book, you will get slammed with advanced verbal stems and “moods” that will require you to memorize them in quick succession.  It is not that Mounce tries to overwhelm the reader, but verbs are the lifeblood of any language and thus important to learn. Half the book is dedicated to verbs if that gives you any indication as to their importance.  

The issue with the final two sections of the book is that you will need to pay close attention to the similarities/dissimilarities between the construction and intended meaning of the new verbal constructions.  If you are not careful, they will all begin to blend together and will leave you feeling lost.

I know I felt stuck at times, especially when adding the layers of voice (active/middle/passive), tense (present/future/aorist), and mood (indicative/participle/subjunctive/imperative/infinitive) into the mix on top of studying new vocabulary.  

In my own personal studies, these are the two sections I return to most often.  Keep going is all I can say as this is the make or break moment to gaining an adequate knowledge of Biblical Greek.  Trust Mounce, he is an incredible teacher.

 

4.Biblical Greek Survival Kit by William Mounce

As if producing a workbook was not enough, Mounce comes to the rescue with a handy Survival Kit that includes not only flashcards for each chapter and beyond (2,000+ vocabulary cards), but a CD which includes the proper pronunciations of vocabulary.

 This was a great resource for me as it saved hours of time creating flashcards, and offered an opportunity to learn Greek from an auditory standpoint as well. It is not essential to have this kit, but if you have the money to spend it provides invaluable help.

Let it be known though, that the vocabulary definitions provided here are only the general senses of the word.  Proper names are obviously exceptions to this rule, but as you advance in your studies it would do you well to pick up a lexicon.  Lexicon is a fancy word for a dictionary for those of you who do not know. There is more to it than that, but why break our theme of the general sense?

 

5.The Vocabulary Guide to Biblical Hebrew by Van Pelt & Pratico

While lacking the handiness of flashcards and audio files, this book makes it up to the reader by providing you with 22% of the entire Hebrew lexical vocabulary.  The reason for only including 22% of Hebrew vocabulary (1,903 words) is that the remaining 88% are infrequent (6,776 words). This 88% only makes up 10% of what you will encounter in the Hebrew Bible, and will only occur less than 10x in the Bible each!  The 22% that Van Pelt & Pratico provide in the book will make up 90% of everything you will read. I would say the trade off is well worth it.

The great thing about this book is that it lists the vocabulary terms in a variety of ways.  By far the most useful for studying will be the first list: Hebrew Words Arranged by Frequency.  As the chapter name suggests, all 1,903 terms are given to you by order of frequency. This is the quickest way to build up your confidence and ability to begin reading Hebrew.  Memorization of the first fifty words will enable you to recognize 55% of what you will encounter in the text. Memorizing 641 will get you 80% of the way there, and finally 1,903 will bring you to 90%.  Pretty encouraging right?

The remaining chapters break down the vocabulary alphabetically under both noun and verbal headings.  I have found these two chapters useful when I am in need of looking up something quickly rather than for memorization purposes.  Others, however, may find it a useful study focus. Finally, the chapter gives you a couple appendices, and most usefully, a chapter dedicated to “Identical Words with Different Meanings” organized alphabetically.  Yes, you read that right: identical words that can only be distinguished by context alone. I will bet you were thinking everything could only look Greek to you.

As I stated above, this is no long-term substitute for a lexicon.  It is meant as a helpful guide for beginners laying down vocabulary foundations.  The definitions provided here will give you the general sense of a word’s meaning.  It is meant to establish an acquaintance between the two of you, not an intimate relationship.  

A lexicon will provide you with the various shades of meaning, immersing you in their usage.

 

6.Greek & Hebrew Bible

“Alright class, how do we learn to recognize our verbal paradigms?”

“By studying them in their natural habitat.”

That was the general gist of why this particular course pushed their students to read their Greek and Latin texts at home and on command in the classroom.  Sitting in on a class during my visit to Hebrew Union College last February was definitely intimidating. Not only was I suffering from jetlag after having flown in to visit a potential doctoral school early that morning, but I had to follow along as students were required to translate passages of the Church Father Origen first in Greek, then switch seamlessly into the Latin translation of the same text to compare.  

The professor was very patient with each student, inserting a correction where needed, and continuously encouraging them to continue translating as it was the best way to engrain the language into their heads.

This reflected my experiences studying Greek at my seminary.  Unlike my Hebrew Year 1 courses, my professor assigned as a required textbook a Greek Bible which he encouraged us to read daily.  At first it was simply to recognize parts of sentences, but soon it turned into translating as much as we could.

While studying vocabulary and grammar was definitely helpful, translating 1 John 1 and John 17 (the required passages for Greek Year 1 Finals) did more to instill confidence and familiarity with Greek than anything else.

This is why I am putting down a Greek and Hebrew Bible as recommended resources for beginners.  Newcomers need to get into the text as quickly as possible, and pushing yourself (with realistic expectations) to translate will be the most fruitful endeavor you can take.

 

So what Greek and Hebrew Bibles do I recommend?

As far as Hebrew goes there is really only one kid on the block and that is the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia which comprised my Hebrew Year 2 textbook in college.  While the Reader’s Hebrew Bible is useful for its inclusion of difficult verbs in the footnotes, BHS will go a longer way if you plan on studying the Hebrew Bible beyond the basics.  It includes textual notes and other various tools.

It is the Hebrew Bible I use and many Hebrew Professors will as well.  The downside of this version is the small type used which can be straining at times.  The forthcoming Biblia Hebraica Quinta will include more user friendly typeset as well as other additional material, but as of yet the project is not complete.  If you simply want something that is easier on the eyes, then RHB will suffice.

Both run upwards of $20-$30 which is why I still believe the BHS gives you more bang for your buck.  Below you can see a comparison of the two, BHS and RHB, respectively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The required Greek Bible for my classes was the trusty Nestle-Aland 28 which was a handy version to have.  For those who want to take it on the go it is good because it includes a list of vocabulary in the back for quick reference.  It really is the one-stop-shop as far as Greek Bibles go, but it is not the one I would recommend for beginners.

The reason for this is because of the recently published The Greek New Testament from the Tyndale House which I find to be superior as a reading Bible for a few reasons.  First, it is cheaper, like 50% cheaper. NA28 presently will run you around $65 before tax, whereas TGNT will only cost you around $30 if you get the basic edition.

Second, the layout of the text is much more conducive to reading.  Like the BHS, the NA28 includes textual notes which will take up half the page or more whereas the TGNT keeps this to a minimum.  Compare below the NA28,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… and the TGNT taken from their website.

 

 

 

 

 

See what I mean?  I picked up the TGNT when it first came out and use it as my go-to Greek Bible.  For the purpose of practicing and reading Greek, the TGNT is a great place to start.  Now the two versions do differ in places, and this has lead to debate between scholars on one side or the other as to which they prefer.  Why will I not focus on the textual questions between the two versions as reasons to go with one or the other?

It is because we are beginners gosh darn it!  “Ain’t nobody got time for” textual criticism right now.  That can wait for Greek Year 2.

Knowing how to parse and specific vocabulary is helpful on a whim, but there is no better teacher than to see each part function in its natural habitat.  This is why I recommended these two Bibles. Start out slow, especially if it has been awhile since you last studied intensively. I find that I have to be very generous when I return to a language I have not had the opportunity to study due to the demands placed upon my schedule, but in time when I practice translating all those skills begin to come back.

To Dr. Bayer, who taught me to love the fountain of biblical languages, Hebrew,  

and to Dr. Chipman, who made the New Testament a little less “Greek” to me.

By | 2018-06-19T02:31:40+00:00 June 23rd, 2018|

Everyone Can Theologize … geze? (5 Books for Beginner Theologians)

I do it, you do it, in fact we all do it.  We are all theologians by nature. We all create a god of reality in our heads based upon what we read and observe in the world around us.  As to whether this god adheres to reality, and most importantly to the One True God, is another story. Flying Spaghetti Monsters … may actually be a thing.  Thankfully for us everyone is doing it, and more importantly many have done it extremely well before us.

Studying theology is one of the most blessed yet daunting tasks that a Christian can undertake.  It is no secret that it can be truly difficult. It incorporates the best of our biblical studies, with the intense introspection of philosophy.  The late RC Sproul, determined to study under the best if he was going to study theology at all during his graduate years, took his family to Holland to study under Gerrit Cornelis Berkouwer who at the time was the greatest living Reformed Theologian.  5 Books for Beginner TheologiansAfter his first lecture (which took place in the Dutch language) under another Professor, Mühlemann, Sproul was asked how he felt about Georg Hegel’s philosophy. Sproul replied that it was difficult, to which Mühlemann concurred:

“Yes, Hegel is difficult in any language.”

Thankfully, it does not always have to be difficult right out of the gate.  There have been brilliant scholars and theologians who have created materials suitable for the beginner, and I have listed below a few works which I have found to be both approachable, yet rich in content.  The study of theology has become something of a bygone practice, an exercise more divisive than spiritually enriching to the minds of many.

However, the study of theology is crucial to the Christian life. It seeks to answer the deepest questions about not just who God is … but what He is as well.  As Michael Horton has put it:

“Many Christians assume you can just experience God in a personal relationship apart from doctrine, but that’s impossible.  You can’t experience God without knowing who He is, what He has done, and who you are in relation to Him.” –Pilgrim Theology, 14.

Below you’ll find a list of works that I believe form a solid beginning to the study of theology.  The criteria for my selection centered on three factors.

  1. Authors and/or books I am personally familiar with so as not to send my integrity screaming off into the hills.
  2. Books that are relatively short (i.e. less than 400 pages) so as not to send newcomers screaming off into the hills.
  3. Books that do not break the bank so as not to send said newcomers’ wallets screaming off into the hills.

Hegel may too much for us right now, but theology is certainly not beyond the reach of the church!

So without further ado, here are the five books that I am (fairly) certain will not cause a mass migration into said metaphorical hills.

 

1) God is Impassible and Impassioned by Rob Lister

5 BOOKS FOR BEGINNER THEOLOGIANS

I see you reaching for those hiking boots!  Relax, there is a reason this is first on the list and why I shall give it a bit more attention than the others.  

Arguably the second densest book on the list, it is also perhaps one of the most important.  It deals with theology proper: the doctrine of God. Studying God provides the foundation by which the rest of theology (e.g. nature, humanity, sin, etc.) is developed, and so it should go without saying that to get theology right one must get God right.  God is the central actor in the universe, and so everything comes into focus by nature of who and what He is.

Rob Lister, who teaches at the Talbot School of Theology, tackles this issue with care.  A great shift has occurred in the past two hundred years regarding not only who people think God is, but what they think He is.  This shift has resulted not only in the denial of basic understandings of God that were held universally amongst Christians for two thousand years, but are dragging Him down to earth and making Him a creature like us.  

This departure has been brought on not only by rejections of past knowledge of the world and how it works, but of a basic lack of understanding of said past knowledge. The latter has been especially true amongst some professing, conservative and orthodox Christians, who modify or even reject the most basic concept of God: His impassibility.

What’s impassibility, you ask?  To put it very simply, it is that God is so utterly whole, perfect, self-contained and sufficient that He cannot be affected by anything other than Himself. God is constant, perfectly in control of Himself.  He does not suffer, fly off the handle, or act in any other way that is not fully loving, just, and merciful.

God cannot feel betrayed in the way that we can, because He has forever been fully aware of who He could trust.  The impassibility of God means that God is the most stable, and therefore dependable being in the universe and beyond.

This definition has, understandably, led many to believe that God is devoid of emotion/passions at all.  Emotions are often the result of interaction between people, and so to claim that He cannot be affected by His creation causes some to claim He is completely dispassionate towards His creation.  This is exactly the dangerous misunderstanding that Lister seeks to correct.

God is Impassible and Impassioned is divided into two main parts.  The first walks the reader through the history of Christian theologians grappling with the study of God through the Scriptures and their own philosophical outlooks on reality.  

One of the biggest contributions the book makes to theology is challenging the misconception that the Ancient Church overwhelmingly allowed their philosophy to override how they read Scripture, when in fact by and large it gave them a framework and language to understand the God of the Bible.  Furthermore, the Ancient Church did not deny that God had passions when they called Him impassible, but that His passions transcends our own experience with passions.

Lister moves on then to discuss impassibility in the Medieval and Reformation periods, highlighting that throughout the history of the church, Catholic and Protestant, God was always professed to be impassible.  It has only been in modern times that this doctrine of God has been challenged.

The second half then walks the reader through how to read and understand Scripture with this understanding of God.  From the Old and New Testament, Lister then walks through how these Scriptures shed light on the truth of God’s impassibility.  This is perhaps the most practical part of the book for Christians who begin their study of theology. It is important to get God right at the start of your theology, but Rob Lister helps you to not forget God once you’ve “turned the page”.

 

2) Theology: The Basics by Alister McGrath

My own Christian Doctrine textbook in college, Theology: The Basics does just as it says.  It teaches you the basics.  At just under 300 pages, McGrath has written a work that will cover the essentials of the Christian faith in an easy introductory work.  The book begins with the theology of Faith.

It introduces the reader to how Christians past and present have understood this vital aspect of the human experience, and its relationship to reason and the existence of God.  What is faith? How is it defined and acted upon? What is reason? Do we need reason for faith, or does it make faith unnecessary? Can God’s existence be proven? Daunting questions these may be, but McGrath handles they in a superb style that will be easily accessible to newcomers.

With this foundation in place, McGrath moves on to discussing theology proper: God.  How is God described in Scripture? How should we understand when the Bible says He is like something, even though He is not that things specifically?  Is God personal, or impersonal? To put it another way, can we have a living relationship with God?  How does God bring us to faith in His Son?

Finally, and most importantly, how are we to understand God’s impassibility?  See, I told you that the prior book was important. Highly enriching, this chapter will give a solid foundation towards our own relationship with God.

From here on McGrath then converses about how Christians have understood Creation, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Triune God (i.e. Trinity), the Sacraments, the Church, Salvation, and the End Times in under 300 pages!  Again, this book is great place to start if you’re looking for a solid overview of each topic.

The fact that it is now on it’s fourth edition is testament to the fact this book has continually be of value to Christians and their fields of study.  It doesn’t take up much room on the shelf, is written by a solid Christian Theologian, and will give you the essentials of the faith.

 

3) How to Think Theologically by Stone and Duke

This title, unlike the others, does not deal with the specific study of theology.  Rather, it deals with how one thinks theologically. The opening statements of the book I believe best covers its purpose.

Chances are, you are a theologian.  If you practice your religion, live according to your Christian faith, or even take seriously the spiritual dimension of life, inescapably you think theologically.  It is a simple fact of life for Christians: their faith makes them theologians. Deliberately or not, they think -and act- out of a theological understanding of existence, and their faith calls them to become the best theologians they can be. -pp1

Theology is simple and complex at the same time, and the writers understand this and do their best to help Christians through the process.  

Not everyone comes to the table of discussion with the same theology in mind. How does one’s practice and personal experience shape their theology?  Are they aware of what does shape their theology? How do we even begin to form our own personal theology? What are the resources for this, and how should we handle them?  

This and more is covered throughout the book which recently saw its third edition. A great practical guide, How to Think Theologically helps form the basic assumptions by which Christians should tackle theology with.

 

 

4) Classical Christian Doctrine by Ronald Heine

To those who know me, Classical Christian Doctrine had to be on this list.  I was hooked on Ronald Heine as an author after finishing his Reading the Old Testament with the Ancient Church (a book I highly recommend), and this present title did not disappoint.  Slightly different than the others, this book examines, through the lens of the Nicene Creed, what were the basic theological assumptions made by Christians during the first 300 hundred years after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I have continuously found this book an excellent resource.  The Bible study at my church which I help lead is finishing a study of this book, and the continuity/discontinuity as it relates to our present denomination and faith.  To my surprise, a lot of adults and young adults who have participated in the study have really enjoyed it, especially when they saw the struggle early Christians went through to discover how to understand God better.  

It was simple enough for newcomers, yet offered a taste of our ancient faith.

Like I said, the book is divided into the basic narrative of the Nicene Creed.  It introduces the subject with the creed itself, and what ancient Christians assumed about Scripture.  God the Father is discussed in excellent detail, but a good third of the book is devoted to the quest to understanding Jesus and the many answers and heresies that arose from this quest.  

The grand question for ancient Christians was: who is Jesus (i.e. in Scripture and relation to us) and what is Jesus (i.e. human or divine)? After this the Holy Spirit, Creation, the Church, Baptism, Eschatology, and the Resurrection each receive their due treatment and analysis.

For me, it has been important and edifying to help us understand the ancient-ness of our faith.  In our quest for modernity and relevancy, we have often disregarded the past. It was important to consider how we can rightly be identified as Christian in the same way that our ancient brothers and sisters were.  What was important to them?

What did it mean to be a Christian if ethnicity and lineage had nothing to do with it? How were their beliefs tied to their practice? Why do we still believe and do many of the things they did today?  I love this book and recommend it more than any other book on this list.

 

5) Christian Theology by Millard Erickson

I told myself that I would stay away from the heavier (both literally and figuratively) materials for this list, which is why you do not see me recommending Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.  But ultimately I felt that this title was worth putting on the list for the sole reason that it can be used as anyone’s “one-stop-shop” for studying theology.

 The required textbook for my own seminary theology courses, Erickson’s treatment of the major fields of theology proved to not only be expansive but fairly approachable.  

One of the factors that some seminaries try to keep in mind is that many students come to the ministry (i.e. called in the Baptist sense) without having had prior college experience in theology or biblical studies.  I am not sure how widespread this is, but my experience with Baptist schools seems to suggest that this is at least a norm for them.

I felt my seminary struck a good balance between an author that was both well informed, yet easily apprehended by students new to the subject.  A few chapters will require multiple readings -which is a good idea anyways when studying theology- while others offer their knowledge freely and openly to all comers. Overall, it was encouraging to see every student grasping the subject matter.

Erickson’s strength lies in that he does not merely give you a conservative position, or even his own position, in each chapter.  He goes through the history surrounding the particular field, and then weighs in with his final analysis and proposed theological answer.  This is why he is the one-stop-shop. He guides the reader through the thought process, ensuring that they are becoming theologians in their own right.

Those of a Reformed tradition will likely have one of two reactions towards Erickson.  You might dislike his “soft Calvinism” (i.e. non-limited atonement) which he is not shy about, or you may truly appreciate the level of care he gives to describing his particular stance which is not without historical precedence.  In either case, rest assured that you will find yourself in good company with Erickson.

He is classically minded, fair in his treatments, and ultimately encouragingly orthodox. If you ever believed that Christianity was incapable of intellectual rigor, Erickson will cure you of that soon enough.

 

For those of you who are not quite ready to take on the full version, an abridged version was created that will help ease the transition titled: Introducing Christian Doctrine.

By | 2018-05-26T12:10:44+00:00 May 26th, 2018|

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