Evangelical Theology, Second Edition
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Evangelical Theology, Second Edition

A Biblical and Systematic Introduction

Michael F. Bird

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eBook - ePub

Evangelical Theology, Second Edition

A Biblical and Systematic Introduction

Michael F. Bird

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About This Book

Gospel-Centered Theology for Today

Evangelical Theology, Second Edition helps today's readers understand and practice the doctrines of the Christian faith by presenting a gospel-centered theology that is accessible, rigorous, and balanced. According author Michael Bird the gospel is the fulcrum of Christian doctrine; the gospel is where God meets us and where we introduce the world to God. And as such, an authentically evangelical theology is the working out of the gospel in the various doctrines of Christian theology.

The text helps readers learn the essentials of Christian theology through several key features, including:

  • A "What to Take Home" section at end of every part that gives readers a run-down on all the important things they need to know.
  • Tables, sidebars, and questions for discussion to help reinforce key ideas and concepts
  • A "Comic Belief" section, since reading theology can often be dry and cerebral, so that readers enjoy their learning experience through some theological humor added for good measure.

Now in its second edition, Evangelical Theology has proven itself in classrooms around the world as aresource that helps readers not only understand the vital doctrines of Christian theology but one that shows them how the gospel should shape how they think, pray, preach, teach, and minister in the world.

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Beginning to Talk about God

§ 1.1 What Is Theology?
§ 1.2 What Do You Have to Say Before You Say Anything?
§ 1.3 What Is the Gospel?
§ 1.4 Is Theology Possible?
§ 1.5 The Necessity and Goal of Theology
§ 1.6 Sources for Theology
§ 1.7 Toward a Gospel-Driven Theological Method
§ 1.8 A Final Word
Prolegomena is where you clear the deck on preliminary issues and show how you intend to set up a system of theology. It is what you say before you say anything about theology—in other words, a pretheology or a first theology. Topics dealt with here include defining theology, giving a definition of the gospel, stating the purposes and goals of theology, and outlining a theological method. These chapters lay the foundation for the rest of the volume, which will explore the God of the gospel and what he has done for us in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
We have been studying cheerfully and seriously. As far as I was concerned it could have continued in that way, and I had already resigned myself to having my grave here by the Rhine! . . . And now the end has come. So listen to my piece of advice: exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis! Keep to the word, to the scripture that has been given to us.1
Where exegesis is not theology, Scripture cannot be the soul of theology, and conversely, where theology is not essentially the interpretation of the Church’s Scripture, such a theology no longer has a foundation.2
An evangelical theology is one which is evoked, governed and judged by the gospel.3
The gospel possesses something distinctive, namely, the coming of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, his suffering, and the resurrection. For the beloved prophets preached in anticipation of him, but the gospel is the imperishable finished work.4


1. Karl Barth on the occasion of his farewell to his students in Bonn prior to his expulsion from Germany in 1935. Cited in Gordon D. Fee, New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, rev. ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993), 6.
2. Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, § 35.
3. John Webster, Word and Church (London: T&T Clark, 2001), 191.
4. Ignatius, Phild. 9.2.


What exactly is theology? If the question is posed in a multiple-choice format, we could choose from the following options.
a. The name of the eighth full-length album by Sinead O’Connor, released in 2007.
b. What my father tells me to stop doing and to get a real job.
c. The study of God.
d. All of the above.
The answer is option (d), “All of the above.” However, option (c), “The study of God,” is technically the more correct answer, and we can unpack that a bit more.1 The Compact Macquarie Dictionary defines theology this way: “The science which treats God, His attributes, and His relations to the universe; the science or study of divine things or religious truth.”2 Augustine defined theology as “rational discussion respecting the deity.”3 The Swiss theologian Karl Barth contended: “Dogmatics is the self-examination of the Christian Church in respect of the content of its distinctive talk about God.”4 Reflecting Barth, John Webster says, “Dogmatics is the church’s evaluation of its own utterance by its own given norm of revelation.”5 The Anglican theologian Alister McGrath asserts that “theology is reflection upon the God whom Christians worship and adore.”6 Kathryn Tanner surmises that Christian theology is trying to figure out “what Christianity is all about, what Christianity stands for in the world.”7 Robert Jenson said that “theology is the thinking integral to the task of speaking the gospel, whether to humankind as message or to God in praise and petition.”8 Sarah Coakley calls theology “an integrated presentation of Christian truth . . . [that] must attempt to provide a coherent, and alluring, vision of the Christian faith.”9 All of these definitions are generally correct, however, my favorite definition of theology, especially dogmatic theology, is given by Jaroslav Pelikan, who regarded theology as, “What the church of Jesus Christ believes, teaches and confesses on the basis of the word of God: this is Christian doctrine.”10
To put things simply, theology is the study of God. It comes from the word theos, which is Greek for “God,” and from logos, which is Greek for “word.”11 It is the attempt to say something about God and God’s relationship to the world. It is thinking about faith from faith. In a sense, theology is very much akin to the study of philosophy, worldview, religion, ethics, or intellectual history; it is a descriptive survey of ideas and the impact of those ideas.
But there are at least two key differences that distinguish theology from other intellectual disciplines like philosophy and religious studies. The first difference is that theology is not the study of ideas about God; it is the study of the living God. Christian theology, then, is different from the study of seventeenth century French literature, ancient Greek religion, and medieval philosophers because the Christian claims that he or she is in personal contact with the subject of inquiry. It is one thing to debate the political thought of Cornel West or to discuss religious themes in the novels of Marilynne Robinson in the classroom. But it would be quite another thing to do that if West or Robinson were sitting in the classroom beside you. Theology, then, is not an objective discipline (i.e., a detached study of an object) like the physical sciences, nor is it a descriptive discipline like the social sciences. Theology is speaking about God while in the very presence of God. We are intimately engaged with the subject of our study.
Second, theology is studied and performed in a community of faith. Theology is something that is learned, lived, sung, preached, prayed, and renewed through the dynamic interaction between God and his people. Theology is the conversation that takes place between family members in the household of faith about what it means to behold and believe in God. Theology is the attempt to verbalize and to perform our relationship with God. Doctrine is corporately professed, prayed, and practiced. Theology can be likened to the process of learning to take part in a divinely directed musical called Godspell.12 To do theology is to describe the God who acts, to be acted upon, and to become an actor in the divine drama of God’s plan to repossess the world for himself.13
Evangelical theology, then, is the drama of gospelizing. By “gospelizing” I mean striving to become what the gospel declares believers to be: slaves of Christ, vessels of grace, servants of the kingdom, a people worthy of God’s name, so that we might participate in the life and mission of God.14 Dedication to the drama of gospelizing is crucial because, as Kevin Vanhoozer declares, “evangelicals need to recapture a passion for biblical formation: a desire to be formed, reformed and transformed by the truth and power of the gospel.”15 To pursue Vanhoozer’s image, the task of theology is to enable disciples to perform the script of the Scriptures, according to advice of the dramaturge the Holy Spirit, in obedience to the design of the director, Jesus Christ, with the gospel as the theme music, and performed in the theater of the church. The company of the gospel shows what they believe in an open-air performance staged for the benefit of the world. The purpose of gospelizing is to ensure that those who bear Christ’s name walk in Christ’s way.16


1. I should add that technically speaking “theology” is simply any discourse about God, while “dogmatics” concerns itself with a church’s official teaching and its prescription for belief and practice. When I say, “theology,” I mean it in this dogmatic sense in terms of the quest for normativity, right belief, right worship, right-heartedness, and right practice.
2. Arthur Delbridge and J. R. L. Bernard, eds., The Compact Macquarie Dictionary (Macquarie, NSW: Macquarie Library, 1994), 1045.
3. Augustine, Civ. 8.1.
4. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of the Word of God, trans. G. W. Bromiley, ed. T. F. Torrance (London: Continuum, 2004 [1932]), I/1:11 (hereafter: CD).
5. John Webster, God without Measure: Working Papers in Christian Theology, 2 vols. (London: T&T Clark, 2016), 1:216.
6. Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 137.
7. Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2001), xiii.
8. Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 1:5.
9. Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay “On the Trinity” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 41.
10. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 1:1.
11. Note that “theology proper” is discussion of the doctrine of God, whereas general “theology” is the discussion of all matters in relation to God.
12. Here I am playing on the Stephen Schwartz musical Godspell (1971).
13. On theology as “drama,” see Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005).
14. See Michael J. Gorman, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015).
15. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Evangelicalism and the Church: The Company of the Gospel,” in The Futures of Evangelicalism: Issues and Prospects, ed. C. Bartholomew, R. Parry, and A. West (Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity Press, 2003), 72 (40–99).
16. Vanhoozer, Drama of Doctrine, 16, 102, 442.



For Christians, theology is studying God as he is known according to Holy Scripture and in the church’s witness and worship. Now if you are going to engage in a study of God, before you formally begin, you need to say something about how you intend to undertake such a study. This is what theologians call “prolegomena.” The designation prolegomena derives from the Greek word prolegō, which means “things I say in advance.” So theological prolegomena is what you say before you begin to say anything about God. Prolegomena is a type of pretheology theology. It lays the groundwork for engaging in a systematic study of God and his relationship to the world. Prolegomena in Church History

The task of developing a prolegomena has a long and distinguished...

Table of contents

  1. Cover Page
  2. Title Page
  3. Copyright Page
  4. Dedication
  5. Contents
  6. Acknowledgments for the First Edition
  7. Preface to the Second Edition
  8. Abbreviations
  9. Overture: “Without the Gospel” (John Calvin)
  10. Why an Evangelical Theology?
  11. Part 1: Prolegomena: Beginning to Talk About God
  12. Part 2: The God of the Gospel: The Triune God In Being and Action
  13. Part 3: The Gospel of the Kingdom: The Now and the Not Yet
  14. Part 4: The Gospel of God’s Son: The Lord Jesus Christ
  15. Part 5: The Gospel of Salvation
  16. Part 6: The Promise and Power of the Gospel: The Holy Spirit
  17. Part 7: The Gospel and Humanity
  18. Part 8: The Community of the Gospelized
  19. Scripture and Apocrypha Index
  20. Subject Index
  21. Author Index