Saturday, October 3, 2009

Bringing Theology to Life: Key Doctrines for Christian Faith and Mission - Darren C. Marks

Making theology clear, precise and applicable

Bringing Theology to Life: Key Doctrines for Christian Faith and Mission
Author: Darren C. Marks
Publisher: IVP Academic
Pages: 190

In “Why the Care of Language is More Important than Ever” (Christianity Today, September 2009), Marilyn Chandler McEntyre writes, “The discourse of the church, the subtleties of biblical language and the nuances of translation, the ear for poetry and care for theological distinctions may be eroded when the language of popular media is allowed to overtake the dialect of worship and conversation among believers. We need to help one another—reading, speaking, and praying thoughtfully together—to maintain the strenuous pleasures of precision, clarity, and lively confrontation that are mutually empowering and that keep us accountable to one another, to the responsible reading of Scripture, and to the God we serve.”

This is why a book like Bringing Theology to Life is important. It is an attempt to “maintain the strenuous pleasures of precision, clarity, and lively confrontation that are mutually empowering and that keep us accountable to one another, to the responsible reading of Scripture, and to the God we serve.” Recognizing and understanding theological distinctions are part of growing spiritually. We are impoverished when we speak and act without a substantive knowledge of what we are doing. It is like taking communion without knowing the significance.

Having come from a church background that gave little thought to history and theology, I find the book rewarding, even when I am unsure if Marks is correct. I appreciate the discussion. This is one man’s attempt to communicate the depth and richness behind the teachings that are fundamental to the Christian faith. You find one of many samples of this in the chapter titled “The Doctrine of the Bible and Sacraments,” Marks pulls back the curtain to integrate a theology of Scripture with preaching, which he contends rarely happens. We learn the purpose of preaching.

The value of this kind of precision is that it can be corrective, so that we can adjust our thoughts and actions to be more in line with God’s intent as revealed in the Scriptures.

Having coming from a non-sacramental background, I found his discussion on this subject fascinating and enlightening. He avoids controversy by not concerning us with the number and nature of sacraments, but giving us his view of what they do. He briefly provides non-sacramental perspectives in the book, but the sacramental views have greater depth and inform his theology. Those like me in non-sacramental churches may sometimes feel like a foreigner, but what keeps me interested is a desire to know the truth. This is what Marks seeks to convey even if some of the finer points are debatable.

This book arises from the author’s conviction that “theology, or rather academic theology, is largely divorced from needs and concerns of members of the community of faith.” Marks seeks to “redress that imbalance by clarifying that Christian theology is exactly the content of the life of the Christian community in terms of its worship and therefore its understanding of Christ.” He does this by introducing the insights of academic theologians. This is one of the delights, meeting key figures from the past and learning how their thoughts contributed to our understanding of foundational teachings. In learning why the doctrine of the Trinity is important, for example, the influence of Karl Barth (1886-1968) is reviewed. Each section ends with a bibliography that is grouped into introductory, intermediate and advanced levels.

Some theological distinctions are hard to grasp, but I appreciate the author’s view of the big picture. He continually relates everything back to the Church, rather than focusing on the individual. He reminds us that we are called to community, something our highly individualized society finds hard to accept.

This would make an excellent textbook for a class on the subject. It’s not intended to be an exhaustive book of systematic theology—its scope is limited to the Trinity, Sin, the Incarnation, the Holy Spirit, the Bible and the Sacraments, Heaven, and the Church. The author believes that every Christian should be familiar with these concepts to “live and serve the gospel fully.” Marks succeeds in being clear, precise and confronting with the truth that empowers and make us accountable to each other.
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