Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Book Write-Up: Exploring Christian Theology, Volume Two

Nathan D. Holsteen and Michael J. Svigel, ed.  Exploring Christian Theology, Volume Two: Creation, Fall, and Salvation.  Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

In this second volume of Exploring Christian Theology, Nathan Holsteen, Michael Svigel, Glenn R. Kreider, and others explore the topics of creation, the Fall, and salvation in Christian theology.  They provide an exposition of the doctrines, chronicle views on the topics throughout church history, list different perspectives on the topics, and provide practical guidance on how Christians should interact with the topics.  The book also has a list of recommended books for those who wanted to go deeper, as well as a helpful glossary in the back.

The book interacts with certain questions.  What does it mean for humanity to be created in God’s image?  How do human beings receive their soul—-do they inherit it from their parents, does God create it for them at birth, or did it pre-exist their human existence?  Did the Fall only weaken the human capacity to choose good, or did it obliterate it?  This volume explores these questions, and more.

The greatest asset to this volume is that it surveys different Christian views on these topics, past and present.  It does not assume that Christians throughout history have had the exact same views on these topics, but rather it acknowledges development and diversity.  The lists of recommended books are also good because they include books that have different perspectives.  You will find atheist Richard Dawkins in one of the lists, and Calvinists and Arminians, inclusivists and exclusivists, in another.  To be honest, I was bored with the parts of the book that explained the doctrines, but the parts about the interaction with the topics throughout church history made the book well worth the read, and those who teach such material may find those parts helpful.

In terms of the book’s weaknesses, I did not always care for the book’s organization.  I realize and respect that these topics intersect with each other.  The view that God created each person’s soul, for example, intersects with the question of whether humans are inherently good or bad, and beliefs about the extent of human corruption affect how Christian theologians conceptualize God’s role in salvation.  Still, I do think that the editors should have worked a little harder at separating these topics into chapters.  The first part of the book was looking at so much—-the image of God, the soul, and original sin.  When I was reading a part of the book that quoted Christian thinkers throughout history and was hoping to see clearly the various views on human sinfulness, I was encountering views about what the image of God was.  The second part of the book, which was about salvation, was repeating things about human sinfulness from the first half.  The editors may have thought that this was the best way to organize the book, after considering various options.  It was a bit distracting, though, for me as a reader.  They should have had a part of the book about creation, a part about the Fall, and a part about salvation—-three parts of the book, rather than two.

Also, there were a few cases in which the book had charts about various Christian beliefs on certain topics (i.e., the nature of the atonement, and the spectrum from exclusivism to pluralism), but (as far as I could see or recall) it did not talk about these topics in the text itself.  I think that charts should serve as a visual aid for things discussed in the text, not a substitute for them.

Overall, however, I did like this book and found it to be informative.

Bethany House Publishers sent me a complimentary review copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

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