For a while now, I’ve been on the hunt for a solid, entry-level systematic theology to use with people in my church. We have a wealth of in-depth, academic-level systematic theologies available to us today, especially for those of us in the Reformed tradition. But there’s a notable gap in literature that hits the sweet spot—at least for those of us who are Reformed and Baptist—between those more technical, lengthier works and systematic theologies that are geared to the average person in the pew.
This is partly why I think Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology has been so popular despite its methodological and theological problems. I’ll be honest; I’ve used it with people! It’s accessible, easy to understand, saturated with scripture, and generally takes Reformed positions. In terms of those qualities, it’s ideal for use in the church. But alas, there’s that pesky methodology (Biblicism) along with his odd (Grudem’s view of prophecy) to even straight-up aberrant (eternal subordination of the Son) theological positions at times.
So I’ve long desired a replacement, something that’s equally accessible, readable, scripture saturated, but without the problems of Grudem.
I’m pleased to say that I think I’ve found that in Christopher Morgan’s Christian Theology: The Biblical Story and Our Faith.
- It’s a little bit less than ~600 pages. Now, to some, that may sound like a lot. But compared to Grudem’s ~1,600 pages, for instance, it’s actually pretty short for a book of this nature (in that sense, Morgan’s work is not entirely comparable to Grudem’s, since it isn’t as in-depth). These ~600 pages are generously-spaced, large-font-sized, easy-to-read small pages too. So that ~600 isn’t as bad as it might sound. This book is doable.
- The Christian faith is not a set of propositions that have descended to us untouched by history. Rather, the Christian faith is a storied faith, that is, it’s faith in a God who has acted in history and is directing history toward his glory and the salvation of his people. Therefore, Morgan begins each chapter begins by situating doctrines in this context, identifying their place and role in the Biblical story.
- Morgan also begins each chapter by surveying key Biblical passages on a given doctrine. In addition, the methodology he employs throughout his chapters avoids the proof-texting that’s all too common in systematic theologies. Rather, he sources his theology in solid exegesis. This also helps the reader see how the theology is in fact Biblical, rooted in the scriptures.
- Each chapter includes “Voices from Church History” and “Voices from the Global Church,” which connect Christian doctrines, beyond the reader’s exclusive context, to how they have been embraced and shaped by the larger Christian community, the church catholic.
- Morgan intentionally avoids theological jargon in order to make the book that much more accessible. So, for instance, in his chapter on salvation, instead of using the header, “Justification,” he says, “We Are Righteous in Christ.” Or in his chapter on God’s attributes, instead of, “The Holiness of God,” he makes it more personal by saying, “Our God is Holy.”
The positions he takes are Evangelical, Reformed, and Baptist.
- That said, in terms of soteriology (doctrine of salvation), he stays pretty high-level. He doesn’t get super explicit about the contours of Reformed soteriology (Calvinism), like explicitly distinguishing unconditional from conditional election. He doesn’t discuss whether regeneration logically precedes faith or vice versa. He does not mention views on the extent of the atonement. He sufficiently walks through each part of salvation (election, calling, regeneration, conversion, justification, etc.) but without getting into all the weeds. He’s selective in terms of where he chooses to dive in. For instance, he spends more time unpacking justification on the historical theological surround the Protestant development of that doctrine.
For those interested in his particular positions on other matters:
- When discussing the doctrine of creation, he doesn’t mention evolution or different interpretations of Genesis 1-2.
- In terms of the Holy Spirit, he only very briefly mentions that there are different views on certain spiritual gifts, without taking a position. He rejects Pentecostal theology of Spirit-Baptism as evidenced by tongues, although he doesn’t specifically mention Pentecostalism by name.
- In terms of ecclesiology (doctrine of the church), he presents different views on church government without taking a position. He presents the various views on the ordinances, but defends believers’ baptism by immersion.
- In terms of the relationship between the church and Israel, he advocates continuity and discontinuity. He mentions that the church is the new covenant community (spiritual Israel), but that Paul anticipates the salvation of future ethnic Jews into the church still (Rom 11). He distinguishes his view from dispensationalism though, rejecting the idea that this future salvation of ethnic Jews concerns Israel as a political nation-state separate from the church.
- In the chapter on “Last Things,” he simply presents the various views and mentions a strength. He doesn’t state his position. So it’s just a survey essentially.
The book has twelve chapters, making it useful for something like a year-long study where you work through one chapter each month.
- Knowledge God
- God’s Revelation
- God the Trinity
- God’s Attributes and Works
- Humanity and Sin
- Jesus’s Saving Work
- The Holy Spirit
- The Church
- The Future
- The Christian Life
In closing, I love how simple and brief Morgan keeps things, while still getting into important matters (e.g., various views of inspiration, Christological heresies). He also has quite a knack for organizing his material in ways that are very satisfying.
B&H sent me a free review copy of this book (with no obligation to actually write a review though).