A Practical Primer on Theological Method: Table Manners for Discussing God, His Works, and His Ways by Glenn Kreider and Michael Svigel (Zondervan, 2019)

Theological method? Most Christians have engaged in theological method, even if on a rudimentary level, and even if they did not realize that was what they were doing! We all have certain theological beliefs – about God, about Christian living – for example, views about eternal security, sanctification, baptism. Maybe a friend has a different view on such an issue, and you’ve had friendly or not-so-friendly debate. How did you each come to a conclusion about your belief? Theological method!

Enter this book. This is a primer (introductory) book about how we approach, think about, and reach conclusions about our beliefs as Christians. To clarify, some beliefs are not debatable. The early church gathered and settled certain core beliefs that make Christianity to be Christianity. If you veer off course here, you are a heretic and no longer an orthodox Christian. But there are other issues that Christians debate, and we must also at times decide how to apply certain beliefs in a new culture or situation. And the question is: will we do theological method well or poorly?

I’d say the book’s audience is students in introductory classes at Christian university, Bible school, or seminary, but also thoughtful lay folks and adult Sunday school class teachers. Indeed, poorly done theological method can take place in group discussions in the church setting (not to mention social media), and a more informed teacher would be a great help.

Kreider and Svigel quote and reference authors and theologians from a variety of Christian traditions. Therefore, varied Christian universities, seminaries, and churches could utilize this book, as they’d be sure to find someone from their “camp” who has been referenced in a helpful way! For example, I observed references to both Calvinistic and Wesleyan-Arminian sources. Note the subtitle for this book talks about table manners (more about the table below) and Christians from different traditions – and within the same tradition! – should be able to discuss theological issues in a polite manner. Sadly, it can end up like a food fight!

The book, while covering academic subject matter, is user friendly. The authors incorporate certain features into every chapter to help the presented information be clear. For example, there is a FAQ section, as they anticipated concerns or questions likely to come to the reader’s mind.

The first 3 chapters form the foundation of the book, explaining terms and clarifying concepts. Chapters 4-11 are the heart of the book, and each of these chapters focuses on one perspective or voice that is necessary as we participate in theological method. Kreider and Svigel use the creative idea of a group seated around a table, and in each chair is an individual representing one of these vital perspectives. The vital voices are: the interpreter, the theologian, the virtuous, the philosopher, the scientist, the artist, the minister, and the historian. This is not meant to be taken rigidly, but as the book unfolds, the reader should better perceive the role that each of these chairs plays. For example…

The Bible needs to be interpreted. A theologian helps with synthesis, as in, how does a certain issue fit in with the Christian faith as a whole? Theology is not just about information, but transformation (virtue). God gave us minds, and we should engage in critical thinking (philosophy). Creation reveals God, and science interprets creation. Awareness of Christian history helps us learn from those who have come before us, and hopefully avoid repeating mistakes.

The end of each of these chapters addresses the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. The issue in Acts 15 was gentiles coming into the faith. Did they have to be circumcised and follow Old Testament law and customs? Early church leaders gathered and had to make a decision. How did that take place?

Did Peter stand up and say that he had a direct prophetic word from God and proclaim the answer? NO. They came to an answer with…theological method. At the Jerusalem Council, we can see how each seat around the table played a part. Scripture was considered. Peter appealed to how the Holy Spirit came upon the gentiles. There was debate and discussion. Their ministry experience was influential. Etc.

Another point in the book is the importance of community when it comes to theology. Wacky things can come from isolation. Of course, personal study and contemplation is important, but eventually we need the community of faith. We need the guidance and insight of others.

The final chapter is an encouraging summation. Theology is not just for professionals (professors, clergy) but lay people too. The authors “hope that you might actually pull up a chair to a real table with other Christians, share a meal or coffee together, and experience the remarkable work of Christian theology.” (page 166). I recommend this book to you.

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