What is Theology and What Should We Do with It? Two Theological Works That Shaped my Decade

As confusion gives way to clarity regarding the person and work of God, gratitude and worship arise in the believer.

The past decade brought about the turning of thousands of pages in my personal life. As I ran through the hallways of the cosmic conversation of Christ, I made friends along the way in the form of books. Many of them became bricks God used to develop my dogmatic journey which is, I pray, far from over. Yet, two volumes that have acted as foundational were God Without Measure, Volume 1, by John Webster and The Drama of Doctrine, by Kevin Vanhoozer.

 

In a simple five-word sentence laced with wisdom and insight, Katherine Sonderegger stopped me in my reading tracks. “Theology awakens a grateful heart” she penned in the opening sentence of her multi-volume Systematic Theology.[1] I wasn’t expecting such a devotional punch as I cracked my newly purchased and highly anticipated work from the Episcopalian theologian.

She is correct; theology does indeed awaken a grateful heart. As confusion gives way to clarity regarding the person and work of God, gratitude and worship arise in the believer. It is this reality which has led the past decade to be a rewarding one for me. From beginning to end, 2010 – 2019, I’ve been in the position of receiving formal theological education. Beginning my bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies during the early stages of 2010 to winding down my Ph.D. in Systematic Theology at the close of 2019; one of the most consistent realities during these ten years is my status as a student.

For some, a decade of theological education sounds like a punishment unfit for any crime. For others, it sounds like grace upon grace. I’m happy to report that I’m in the latter camp and a major cog in God’s thousand gears of grace has been the reading I’ve done along the way. Theological literature allows us to join the cosmic conversation about Christ which has spanned centuries and continents. As the theological student moves his or her way through their educational journey, these books provide handrails and guides as we seek to most clearly communicate our Lord.

Like any theology student, I’ve been on the receiving end of a thousand ideas from theological literature and am in the eternal debt of well-articulated writing. However, at the close of the decade, I wanted to highlight two modern books that have made the haze clear in largely incomparable ways for me. While there are hundreds of books I could list that have aided my theological journey—from patristics through the publications of 2019—these two modern volumes were ones God used in significant ways. Namely, one taught me what theology is, while the other taught me what I should do with it.

What is Theology?

Ironically enough, though I spent the entirety of this decade as a theological student, it was not until the latter half of the decade that I was introduced to a volume that has profoundly shaped how I would go about defining Christian Theology today. Little did I suspect when I first picked up his “working papers in Christian theology,” that John Webster’s volume God Without Measure, Volume 1, would reorient my theological perspective. There is much that Webster has given me as a theologian, and I’m sure many readers could say the same, yet, arguably most important of Webster’s gifts is that he simply made theology theological again.

Even in the opening lines of this wonderful volume, readers can sense Webster’s dogmatic vision and primacy of place for theology proper, “Christian theology is a work of regenerate intelligence, awakened and illuminated by divine instruction to consider a twofold object. This object is, first, God in himself in the unsurpassable perfection of his inner being and work as Father, Son and Spirit and in his outer operations, and, second and by derivation, all other things relative to him.”[2]

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