Systematic Theology is all the rage these days. It seems that once a year someone is “radically” systematizing the faith for us in a way that was more understandable than the last great volume. Owning several volumes on ST myself, I find it a nice escape when a text comes along that is both easily readable and immensely practical. Paul Enns has written such a text with The Moody Handbook of Theology. This substantial, yet practical volume is not a new one by any means. First published in 1989, this handbook has helped many through the years to build up their new faith, and to solidify their continuing faith in Christ.
Since the original publish date, the Christian world has seen a shift in some important theological ideologies, hence the need for an updated version. This update version includes shifts in three important areas: postmodern theology, post-evangelical theology, and Reformed Theology. Enns notes that, “The chapter on Reformed theology arguably should have been included in the first edition (although the major aspects that make up Reformed theology were included in the discussion of Calvinistic theology and covenant theology in the original edition). The new chapter will answer the question, How is Reformed theology different from Calvinism?”
As a 30,000 foot view of the forest is helpful for seeing the entirety of the forest, so it is with the same approach to theology. Enns takes us through 5 facets of theology as we begin our flyover: Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, Historical Theology, Dogmatic Theology, and Contemporary Theology. Though I’m not sure of some of the placements of various aspects of theology, the topics covered are sufficiently undertaken as we take a look at each section.
Our trek begins with Biblical Theology as Enns takes us from Genesis and leaves us at the end of Jude feeling satisfied with the amount of information given in each Testament. Enns is careful not to leave the reader overwhelmed with such a daunting subject but dishes out us enough information to whet our thirst for more. At the end of this section I felt adequately able to pass an entry exam into the school that is BT but also felt that I would not be able to hold more than a surface discussion on the issue.
The “meatiest” section of the book comes in the form of Systematic Theology. As we progress through the doctrines of the Bible, again Enns gives us a flyover view, but digs in a little deeper in this section. He is careful to present a balanced view of each doctrine and makes sure to point out where certain traditions stray from the bible in their understanding of each doctrine. Our study in section 2 is supplemented with charts which are helpful for organizing our system of doctrine, which is the ultimate goal of this section.
Here we come to my favorite section, Historical Theology. Enns traces the development of doctrine from the first century church to the present time. He covers the 4 main areas; Ancient, Medieval, Reformation and Modern theology. Enns is sure to keep the main point in mind as he covers some 2000 years of doctrinal developments. He does this in winsome fashion as he highlights pivotal moments in the history of theology. A helpful feature of this section is in considering the various controversies which arose from this period. Without drowning the reader in names and dates, Enns keeps it short and highlights the controversy in terms of its main proponents and the ideas which separated them from orthodoxy.
From the meat we move onto the proverbial potatoes, if you will, into a facet of theology often confused with its big brother ST. Many of us have not even heard of Dogmatic Theology so a quick definition which Enns gives comes in handy. “The word Dogma comes from a Greek and Latin word meaning ‘that which is held as an opinion’ and may also denote ‘a doctrine or body of doctrines of theology and religion formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church.” From this definition one can clearly see where the confusion with ST would come from. While dogma is a word often used in the West, it may be due to the fact that the term is more common in countries like Germany and Holland than it is in the UK and North America.
The final section we come to is vitally important to Christians, in that, we find ourselves in the midst of these debates and controversies today. Here Enns faces down theologies like Evangelical Feminism, Post-Evangelical, and Postmodern theologies. As Enns has done throughout the book he presents the arguments in vivid clarity as he remains ever diligent to point the reader to the Scriptures for the correct conclusions to the varied discussions. He also aids the reader with charts which compare and contrast the views in question.
I think Enns has produced an updated version of an immensely helpful volume. Not only has he given us a very broad range of things to consider, he also invites us to learn more by including at the end of each section information on other books which are more pointedly concerned about each topic. He lists these resources in terms of readers ability to grasp and understand the material. At over 700 pages, this material is certainly not an afternoon read but it is presented in a very digestible format.
The Moody Handbook of Theology Paul Enns/Moody Publishers, 2014 Review Copy Courtesy of Moody Publishers