The online Bible teaching ministry of John Brand

The Trials of Theology: Becoming a ‘proven worker’ in a dangerous business

On the scale of dangerous jobs, I doubt if most people would rank the theologian or student of theology very highly. However, the process of studying theology is fraught with dangers that need to be faced and navigated. I seem to recall someone once saying that Bible College can be an experience that `freezes the soul rather than fires the heart’ and I personally know more than one theological student who `lost the plot’ as a result of their studies.

This book is primarily aimed at those engaged in theological studies but has a wider relevance to preachers and teachers and all who are serious about God and the truths of his word. The aim of the writers is to remind us that “the task of theology is to know the unknowable and to describe the unknowable” and to warn of the danger of “substituting intellectual stimulation for genuine spiritual experience”.

The format of the book is `inspired’. Part One is devoted to selections from the writings of six “Voices Past”, namely Augustine, Luther, Spurgeon, Warfield, Bonhoeffer and Lewis. In Part Two we hear from five “Voices Present”, namely Woodhouse, Carson, Trueman, Bray and Hollinger. I actually read the book by alternating between past and present voices, rather than from cover to cover and was left with the impression that I would have liked more of the older, to be honest.

The focus of thevoices from the past is more general than those from the present and maybe that’s why I found them more helpful. I especially found Augustine’s dread at entering the ordained ministry, aware as he is of his own shortcomings, perhaps the best chapter of the whole book, closely followed by Spurgeon on Frailty and the Grace of God. The contemporary voices were each designated a specific area of theology, such as systematics, ethics or church history. However, John Woodhouse’s chapter on The Trials of Theological College should be read and considered by all students and staff at the start of each new College year.

For some inexplicable reason I began with the closing Afterword which is mistakenly titled the Foreword. It stressed that “the goal of our theological study is not to figure out God, but rather, to arrive at awestruck incredulity and joyful confidence in God. It is to be blown away in wide-eyed, transfixed adoration.” As Spurgeon once said, “Ignorance of God is the great weakness of the Church.” That is partly the result of bad theology and partly due to theology badly taught and studied. Let’s pray that this valuable book will help remedy that.

Christian Focus; Revised ed. edition (20 Jan. 2010) Review written in 2011

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