Only seven years after the first edition of Danny Akin’s A Theology for the Church, B & H Academic has issued a revised edition. I read the first edition when it came out and have been interested to see what changed.
One of the best changes about the book is the formatting. The revised edition is a larger format with more information on each page. Personally, I find this change beneficial and the newer edition feels like it has more room to breathe. For the seminarian reading thousands of pages, typeface and formatting really do make a difference.
Updates and Revisions
Four chapters saw significant changes in this revised edition. The theological method chapter was replaced by a newly written chapter by Bruce Ashford and Keith Whitfield. They commend a missional approach to theology, which tries to root the study of theology in the greater picture of God’s redemptive work through the whole of Scripture. In my opinion, this is a helpful approach, as it avoids some systemic pitfalls that come from an overly emphatic interest in some particulars of Scripture over others. It also tends to avoid the abstraction that is native to some philosophical approaches to theology.
Chad Brand’s chapter on the work of God is a helpful new chapter. Additionally, David Dockery revised his chapter on Special Revelation and John Hammett updated his chapter on the Doctrine of Humanity. These new chapters include more recent scholarship and some improvements over the previous offerings. In particular, Hammett’s chapter shows the fruit of his ongoing work toward a monograph on the Doctrine of Humanity.
Approach and Content
The chapters are staged to ask for main questions, in this order: “(1) What does the Bible say? (2) What has the church believed? (3) How does it all fit together? and (4) How does this doctrine impact the church today?” Scripture is given preeminence in the discussion, but not to the exclusion of history, system, and application. This is a healthy thing and helps make the volume a valuable introductory resource.
Each chapter has a separate author, so this is a Systematic Theology text by committee. Beginning with four constant questions helps prevent this from becoming a structural Frankenstein. Akin and the other editors did well to ensure the chapters stay true to the formula, which provides cohesion in the chapters. One real advantage of this approach is that the authors often specialized in the topics on which they wrote. It also means they were able to drill down into one doctrine and do more thorough research (or as thorough research in a shorter time) than one theologian could do in a comparable volume. Each of the chapters, then, is lively and well researched.
There are two weaknesses of this approach. First, the theological diversity of the authors prevents it from being a truly systematic theology. In other words, each author has his own theological system that he brings to the table. While there is unity in this diversity, it is a somewhat less cohesive unity than would be possible with a single authored Systematics. The second weakness is that the writing style of each chapter is different, which it makes it harder to get into a reading groove. This can make sustained reading somewhat more laborious.
Despite these weaknesses, which are native to the approach and not problems unique to this volume, the diversity adds value. Not only, as discussed above, does it allow for more thorough and timely research, but it ensures that one individual’s system does not overrun the text. While there are distinct advantages to single authored Systematics, in the sometimes divisive world of Baptist thought, it is good to see men with different perspectives on a host of issues working together to do theology for the church.
Both editions of this text have been, as the title claims, A Theology for the Church. The preposition in the title is hugely important, as it is not a theology of the church or to the church, but one designed to be accessible for the church. In other words, unlike many Systematics, which are written by theologians for other theologians, Akin’s text was written with the intelligent but theologically untrained in mind. Thus it does not get caught in jargon and leave insider references unexplained. It is crafted so a person in the pew can pick it up and benefit from it. Because of that, it makes an outstanding introductory Systematics for a Bible college or seminary.
The one improvement that could be made, if there is another edition released, is to add a glossary to the back. While the indices are helpful and the chapters are written well, that would make this an even more beneficial reference volume.
If you are theologically inclined, or thinking about seminary in the future, this is a theology text I would recommend as a place to start. It is accessible, orthodox, and sufficient to make a sound beginning in the study of theology for the benefit of the church and the glory of God.
Note: A gratis copy of this book was provided by the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.