Building Your Theology

The morning I wrote this post, I was reading the Bible and came across a verse which seemed to contradict what I believed. It was a minor, outlying doctrine – not the Trinity or the deity of Christ or virgin birth, etc. – but it still was not what I had been thinking and so I was faced with a choice of holding onto my doctrine or being conformed to the Scripture. If I hold my doctrine, then I have to do some hermeneutical gymnastics to get around what the Bible plainly seemed to be saying. If I hold to the Bible, there’s the chance that I will feel or look silly, for changing my belief on some minor doctrinal point. Thankfully, I had a great prof in college who told us to hold our Bibles close to our hearts and our doctrines at arm’s reach. The Bible is authoritative, our doctrine is flawed. These days I would go event further to say that the Bible is perfect and all doctrine is flawed – just by the nature of their authors. When God writes the Bible, it comes from a perfect author. When we create doctrine it comes from flawed people. So, the choice of priority of reading doctrine into Scripture or allowing Scripture to form and re-form doctrine becomes remarkably simple…and I changed what I believed.

I was also asked recently by a young friend in ministry about some systematic faith questions and what are some good books for forming one’s doctrine. It’s a long question, so I’m turning it into a little blog post. It was good for me to think through, and good to revisit some great books that have helped shape what I believe about what the Bible teaches. It was difficult to put together because so many books that have helped me aren’t doctrine books, but have some magic in them. So, here’s my little selective doctrine bibliography with some great books that helped me, and might help you!

  • Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. This is a really awesome systematic theology that you can actually read through. It’s practical, not wonky, and has real life applications in addition to strong theological observations. Reading through a systematic is crazy, and everyone should do it.
  • Christian Theology by Millard Erickson. The very first systematic that I ever read. A definite step up in difficulty to read through; it’s dry and thick, yet good. Don’t read this one first…or ever unless you are having trouble sleeping and want to use the time to grow your doctrine.
  • Exploring Christian Holiness, Volumes 1-3 (Biblical Foundations, Historical Development & Theological Formulation). These books are excellent resources for understanding theology with a bias towards holiness, or the living out of our theology in practical ways. For me, practical theology is where it’s at, so this is really helpful in this direction.
  • Practicing Passion, by Kenda Creasy Dean. This book is a youth ministry text, but it approaches youth ministry from practical theology. This makes it, for me, the best book on theology in youth ministry. I consider practical theology is the best approach for pastors serving people and churches; even more so for youth ministers.
  • The Story of Christianity by Justo L. Gonzales. While not a theology or doctrine book, putting theology in its historical context helps us understand why people believed the way they did and how theologies have developed. In turn, this helps us understand our current doctrines and how the culture we live in affects our core belief systems – especially in doctrinal focus and knowing what issues are the issues of the day.
  • Surprised by Hope, NT Wright. This is an absolute must read to develop a strong and biblical theology of the end of the world, heaven and hell, and where people go when they die. This one is just plain awesome.
  • The Power of the Powerless by Jurgen Moltmann. I can’t imagine that this is the best book on liberation theology in the world, but it’s the best I’ve read. Moltmann is a German theologian, writing of liberation theology, which is on the rise in the southern hemisphere, and therefore, becoming increasingly influential in the way that people follow Jesus around the world. I would not call myself a liberation theologian at all, but it is important for me to know and understand this line of thought as it grows globally.
  • A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight. Everyone has an atonement theology, or more than one, but most people don’t know that what they believe probably has a name and probably has a volatile history to go with it. This book isn’t any kind of a systematic, but it is so helpful in developing an understanding of the major theories of the atonement and their contributions to the church and it’s mission.
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