An Interview with the Editors of A THEOLOGY FOR THE CHURCH, Part 2

Part 1 is here.

Part Two

Is there a “reading strategy” that works best for a book like this? Should we try to read straight through it? Or, should we read the parts of it that are relevant to the texts we’re teaching or preaching? Or, should we read a chapter of this Theology then compare it to the same chapter in another Theology? What do you recommend?

 

DPN: Both strategies have merit, though I think many people are more likely to read “straight through” if they are reading in a group or a class. I like the idea of reading it in parts and comparing it to other sources – that might be a good way for people to develop the habit of consulting good resources when theological questions arise. Or perhaps a pastor could do a series of sermons that treats key texts for major doctrines and then congregants could pursue further study with TFC as the preacher works from doctrine to doctrine.

PRS: Reading strategy probably depends on the context of the reader. If one is reading it by himself, I would recommend moving around based on present interest. One might even coordinate it with an existing church study or personal Bible reading schedule (e.g., read Mark Dever’s chapter on ecclesiology while reading through the book of Acts or the Pastoral Epistles). If one is reading it with a group (I know several pastors who lead large and small groups through theology texts on a regular basis), it seems to make more sense to move through it from beginning to end.

Dr. Akin mentions in the preface that if we can teach children and teens science and math, we can teach them Bible and Theology. Do you see this book as one that teens will read or is it more for those who will teach the teens? How should we pass this information on to the next generation?

DPN: That probably depends on the child or teen, and their parents. I don’t think the book is over the head of students who apply themselves. I would hope that parents and others who teach our children would make use of a book like TFC. I spend a good bit of time with teenagers, since I have two of them, and I find that they and their friends are quite interested in matters theological, and they aren’t afraid to ask serious questions as they study the Scriptures. I think one of the strengths of TFC is that it is written with sufficient clarity to be accessible to teenagers who want to study hard. I hope we are building churches that cultivate such a desire among young people to feed on God’s Word, and to use resources like TFC to aid them.

PRS: I am planning to make the text required reading for each member of the Schemm tribe before they leave home—if for no other reason than to boost book sales. On a more serious note, I think Dr. Akin is exactly right about this. Most of the chapters in TFC are accessible to a thoughtful 15 or 16 year old. To be sure, teens will not get it all the first time through. But will the more mature reader even get it all on a first pass? Of course not. Learning theology—knowing God—is a lifelong pursuit and should begin as early as possible.

I think the best way to pass down the great theological traditions of the church to the next generation is to personally embody a soul-satisfying love for God and his church. Once that fire is kindled, the main work is done.

We hear a lot about expositional preaching these days. How will A Theology for the Church help us do exposition? Related to this, how do we balance proclaiming the message of the passage at hand with the more systematic concerns this book addresses?

PRS: I think the short answer is that TFC should assist pastors in doing what we call “theological exposition.” Good expository preaching always situates a biblical text in its larger theological context. TFC helps by identifying the primary biblical texts for each doctrine and then connects them directly to the grand redemptive theme of Scripture (see part 3 of each chapter, “How Does It All Fit Together?”). In the past, I have consistently turned to Erickson and Grudem in the midst of my own sermon preparation. Now I will add TFC to that list—it is loaded with exegetical and theological insights from very capable men who have been doing theology for a long time.

DPN: TFC should help preachers to grasp the central themes in the grand redemptive narrative of the Bible, and it points to some of the most important texts related to each central biblical teaching. Good exposition of texts, even of a single verse, always involves an understanding of the text in the larger context, including the larger canonical context. TFC offers real help along these lines, I think.

Every contributor to A Theology for the Church is a Baptist, Southern Baptist, no less! Aside from Mark Dever’s chapter on “The Doctrine of the Church,” does the fact that the contributors are all Baptists affect the book’s content?

DPN: While all of the authors write as Baptists, we write as Baptists who adhere to the “great tradition” of Christian orthodoxy. So, in one sense the book, we hope, is consistent with biblical orthodoxy and the content isn’t particularly different than it might be were it written by other non-baptist evangelicals. Still, because we are Baptists it is most natural for us to write a theology text in service to the church, as the title A Theology for the Church indicates. As a theology text, the book is concerned with the triune God and gospel of Christ, which is typical of any theology that is orthodox, but we pursue our theology is a distinctively Baptist context.

PRS: No and yes.

No because we write first as Christians who believe what the great creeds of the church have affirmed for almost two millennia. This is seen in our clear affirmation and explanation of first order things (doctrine of the trinity, authority of Scripture, the gospel of Christ, etc.). In this sense, we hope to be anything but distinctive.

On the other hand, the answer is yes since we write as Baptists who believe in certain distinctives which are seen clearly in the doctrine of the church. Hopefully this demonstrates to non-baptists that we are committed to conciliar orthodoxy as well as our own confessional distinctives.

Martin Luther once commented on theological controversy, “Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.” In your opinion, where does the battle rage hottest today?

PRS: This is a difficult answer since I do not think we can say that we have any of the recent theological “battle fronts” completely under control (e.g., the nature of Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity, or the exclusivity of the gospel of Christ). I do know of one front, though, where the battle is raging for evangelicals. It concerns the nature and ministry of the church. What I have in mind is everything from mega-church pragmatism to Emergent eccentricity. Nothing less than the gospel is at stake here. I think I am most concerned about the pervasive consumerism and pragmatism that David Wells and others have been warning us about for some time. It disturbs me that we cannot see when the church is undermining the very gospel of which it is the guardian.

DPN: In recent years we have seen battles about the doctrine of God, the nature of Scripture, and salvation. We see a fair bit of discussion and argument today about the nature of the church and how the church’s mission is carried out. But as in all battles, sometimes it is what happens away from the front” that is crucial, as any student of warfare can attest. While current debates about the church are important, we find that there are other issues behind those arguments that we must not fail to consider. For example, I think that our ecclesiology is often weak due an insufficient understanding of the sufficiency and clarity of Scripture and the implications of those doctrines for life in the church. As well, our ecclesiology sometimes suffers from a failure to form our doctrine and practice of the church in the context of a rich Trinitarian theology that sets Christology at its center.

If you had to choose just one thing a reader would gain from A Theology for the Church, what would that be?

PRS: I would like our readers to gain a renewed appreciation for how life and doctrine relate. I hope that they will live better before God having contemplated such important thoughts about God. In the words of the Puritan William Ames, what we are after is “living to God.” I think the contributors to TFC have done well in writing to this end.

DPN: I hope the reader will move from theology to doxology since that is the ultimate purpose of the knowledge of God: to bring people to a life with God that is constituted by genuine worship, for the glory of Christ.

——————

Many thanks to Drs. Nelson and Schemm for taking the time to participate in this interview. I would also like to express my gratitude to Malcolm Yarnell, who suggested that I do this interview after he participated in the interview on First Freedom.

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