The Boring Word in Theology

The Boring Word in Theology November 13, 2013

That word is “prolegomena” and it bores readers to begin a book with pages and pages of prolegomena. I know a 3 volume German theology on a topic, and the whole first volume is prolegomena. But everyone writing a theology, including Mike Bird, Evangelical Theology, begins with prolegomena. But let’s give the guy a hearing.

What is theology? Study of God, not just study of the history of the discussion of the study about God or what the Bible says about God, but engagement with God. This can be done best — really only — in a community of faith. But this is where it gets to be too much talk about talking, and Mike Bird closes quickly: genuine theology is gospel-theology.

What is the gospel? He opens with some theses: kingdom of God (which he seems to define as God’s redemptive act), includes the story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and exaltation, and it announces the status of Jesus. Further, the apostolic gospel (why he doesn’t include Jesus surprises) is intimated in the Old Testament, and the response to the gospel is faith and repentance (no baptism?). The benefit of the gospel is salvation. Overall, this is not just good but very good; overall, too, this is the way to begin theology. Here is his definition:

The gospel is the announcement that God’s kingdom has come in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord and Messiah, in fulfillment of Israel’s Scriptures. The gospel evokes faith, repentance, and discipleship; its accompanying effects include salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

To say it is “God’s kingdom” requires what he said about “kingdom” earlier, and I want to pause here. “The kingdom of God is best understood as the reign or rule of God that breaks into the world through the dramatic intervention of Israel’s God in events like the Exodus or the future ‘day of the Lord'” (47). OK, here kingdom means redemptive act. But he then flirts with kingdom entailing a constellation of hopes — return to the Land, the pilgrimage of the Gentiles, renewal of the covenant, vindication of the suffering, forgiveness, rebuilding the temple and blessings. This sounds like kingdom means people — but as I read him I think he leans toward kingdom meaning “God’s redemptive act.” I will keep my eye on kingdom theology as I read this book. If I’m right in this “God’s redemptive act,” then Bird has defined above (“God’s kingdom has come”) the gospel as “redemption.” He will say more about kingdom in another chapter so I want to see how “redemptive” his understanding of kingdom is.

I like very much that he makes the “effects” salvation and the Holy Spirit. That makes soteriology the benefit. The only other point I’d make is that I want to see how individualistic this gospel is for the Story of Israel coming to completion in the Story of Jesus entails the church, and I suspect he’ll work church into this gospel approach.

Big point: Bird begins his theology with the gospel and the “prolegomena” establishes that very point. This is a huge step forward ahead of theologies that do theology by the traditional loci (God, man Christ, sin, salvation, etc).

Bird covers as well the sources of theology, and here he has a solid Scripture first (prima scriptura) without it being Scripture alone; so he recognizes and values the greatness of the church tradition as well as other sources — nature, experience and culture. Here he takes a shot at naive biblicism, and he sees Grudem’s theology as a theology done by concordance.

Enough for today. Bird quotes people across the spectrum, taking what he likes from a variety of folks, folks who don’t normally get along. He may want the tension of eclectic drawing together as part of the dialogue of theology.

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