A new comprehensive (1000+ pages) theology from an evangelical Presbyterian author should be well-received by the church at large.
At 1000 pages, the book is too large to read in its entirety before completing a review - it took three semesters in seminary to read through Augustus Strong’s Systematic Theology which is of similar length. What this review will attempt to do is examine three or four issues that may be of interest to a Wesleyan evangelical reader. The author of the review does not claim to be a theological scholar; but, rather, a pastor with an interest in theology.
The book begins, as a well-written theology must, with a discussion on the existence and nature of God. This includes an examination of the arguments often given for the existence of God. Letham points out these arguments are not likely to provide proof for the unbeliever, but they are “presented to believers to disclose the rationality of what they hold already by faith.” (p. 43). Letham looks at three of the most common arguments:
1. Anselm’s Proof for the Existence of God
(where he spends the most time)
2. The Cosmological Argument
3. The Teleological Argument
4. The Moral Argument
The author takes time to explore the strengths and weaknesses of such arguments as a whole. The discussion, as is the entire book, is well-documented with references to a variety of sources: Biblical, ancient, and modern.
After providing a detailed discussion of the Trinity, the author provides a full discussion on the attributes of God. From there the author moves into a discussion of the Word of God, quickly taking the reader to a discussion of inerrancy, starting with these comments:
Inerrancy has been embraced throughout the ages. The claim that the Bible is without error on all it pronounces emerged prominently in the nineteenth century. Yet, as Warfield demonstrated, the church down through the centuries held this position, whether explicitly or implicitly. (p. 190)
The author, thus, has a high view of scripture - appreciated by this reviewer.
As can be expected from a Presbyterian author, this theology has a strong statement on the sovereignty of God’s grace and its “corollary”, the perseverance of the saints. However, only a single paragraph is spent discussing the issues Arminius and Wesley had with perseverance as viewed from a reformed perspective, though he later addresses the warning passages found in Hebrews 6 and 10 under the subtopic of the “the promises of God”. It should be noted that each chapter, including this one, ends with a few suggestions for further reading and a few study questions to guide the reader in a deeper study of the topics discussed.
The other issue that would be of interest to Wesleyan readers would be that of sanctification. “Justification and sanctification are inseparable, yet distinct. … Justification affects our legal status, while sanctification affects our moral condition.” (p. 736) Though the author spends a great deal of time discussing the meaning, timing, and means (“The same means that bring us into the covenant keep us there. There are no extraordinary sanctifying devices. (p. 738), he at no time addresses directly the Wesleyan distinctive of entire sanctification. He hints at this issue as he addresses the “erroneous” view of the Keswick doctrine of sanctification and challenges the modern church’s distinction between “between having Christ as one’s Savior and having him as Lord.” (p. 742). But that is as close as he gets to discussing entire sanctification.
The book ends with nearly 100 pages of reference material:
- A limited glossary - which is missing many key terms one might expect in a “Christian” theology text and does not include references to where the material is discussed in the text.
- A bibliography - with no easy way to verify its completeness without reading the entire text or going through each individual footnote.
- A Name Index
- A Subject Index
- A Scripture Index
The book is readable - by scholars, members of the clergy, or laymen. I expect that given the quantity of material available in this book, a digital copy of the book might be more helpful than a paper copy - sadly there is no sign of a digital copy (Kindle, LOGOS, ePub, etc.) being available in the foreseeable future. Though written primarily for a Reformed audience, the completeness of the material covered will make it of value to those coming from a variety of theological backgrounds.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are my own.