How to Revive Evangelism | Book Review

“Forty-seven percent of Millennial Christians believe sharing their faith with others is wrong.” Not Millennials generally, but Millennial Christians specifically. And not difficult or inconvenient, but just plain wrong.

Craig Springer cites this statistic at the outset of How to Revive Evangelism to make the point that “the instinct to evangelize is eroding” among U.S. Christians. It’s easy to criticize Millennials on the basis of this one statistic — easy, but wrong. Instead, Springer believes that Millennials “actually hold the key to the future growth of the church.”

Why? Because they live in what John Mark Comer has called “the post-everything era.” They are “post-Christian,” having little to no religious affiliation. They are “post-family,” raised in non-traditional households. They are “post-technology” because smartphones and social media shape every aspect of their lives. And they are “post-super-size” because large, anonymous corporations — Big Tech, Business, Government, etc. — dominate their experience.

These four “post-“ realities leave Millennials unsatisfied. They yearn for “deep, meaningful dialogue about spiritual things.” They want “a place where they can belong.” In a world mediated to them by screens, they are “seeking out genuine interactions.” And in a culture characterized by bigness — even the churches are mega! — Millennials desire “intimate experiences.”

Unfortunately, the method of evangelism that predominates in U.S. Christianity isn’t responsive to those concerns. For many Millennials, “Disagreement is interpreted as judgment,” writes Springer. That being the case, the proclamation model of evangelism — whether from the pulpit or one-on-one — increases judgmentalism in Millennials’ minds because it foregrounds questions of what is true and good. Since judgmentalism is bad, it’s no wonder nearly half of Millennials believe evangelism is wrong.

How to Revive Evangelism doesn’t ditch proclamation, however. Springer writes, “proclamation is a necessary part of the strategy for spreading the gospel and it always will be.” So, what exactly does the book propose?

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus likens the evangelist to a farmer, the gospel to a seed, and the evangelist’s hearers to soil (Mark 4:1–20). If the predominant method of evangelism in the U.S. is about sowing seed, what Springer proposes is about training farmers and preparing soil. This requires Christians to make “seven primary shifts in how we share our faith,” which Springer articulates as follows:

  1. We have to be hungry for more [of Jesus], not just hoping for many [converts].
  2. We have to engage in conversation, not just proclamation.
  3. We have to create spaces of belonging, not just welcoming.
  4. We must speak through experience, not just explanation.
  5. Our concern must be with the fruitful, not just the factual.
  6. Our efforts involve we, not just me.
  7. We need to build unity [among churches], not just uniformity.

Springer makes a good case that these shifts create conditions — more importantly, communities — that are responsive to Millennials’ concerns. They don’t replace the call to conversion as much as they lay the groundwork so that it can happen in an authentic, life-transforming manner. Springer writes, “Demonstration + Conversation + Proclamation … that’s a powerful gospel combination.”

How to Revive Evangelism cites reliable data for its conclusions. The data come from a Barna Group report commissioned by Alpha USA, of which Springer is executive director. These shifts are not just data-driven, however.

Springer demonstrates them from the ministry of Jesus Christ himself. Alluding to Jesus’ invitation to Peter, James, and John to follow Him (Luke 5:1–11), Springer writes: “We can and will be effective at our call to be fishers of men and women only so far as we trust in Jesus and implement his new, old ways.”

I recommend How to Revive Evangelism to pastors, church leaders, and church members alike. It combines biblical insight with good data and practical suggestions and is easy to read. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter make it useful for small group settings.

Book Reviewed
Craig Springer, How to Revive Evangelism: 7 Vital Shifts in How We Share Our Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Reflective, 2021).

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P.P.S. I wrote this review for I cross-posted it here with permission.

Wings to Rise | Book Recommendation

The Assemblies of God (USA) is a racially and ethnically diverse denomination, 56% white and 44% minority. The diversity of its adherents is not matched by the diversity of its leadership, however, especially at the level of district leadership. Not yet, anyway. In this book, my friend Dr. Darnell Williams shares the fruit of his doctoral research with readers. To help the AG become a truly minority majority denomination, we need to develop a pipeline for minority leadership throughout the Fellowship. Reading Dr. Williams’ book is a good place to start.

Book Reviewed
Darnell K Williams, Sr., Wings to Rise: Blacks, Leadership, and the Assemblies of God (Self-published, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my recommendation, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Slough House | Book Review

Slough House is the seventh novel in Mick Herron’s series about a department of agents MI5 doesn’t want but can’t fire. It is also the darkest and best installment. You can read it as a stand-alone, but trust me, you’re better off starting with Slow Horses and working your way through the series in order. The payoff will be huge.

The action begins with an assassination. We don’t know who or where at first, but when two former denizens of Slough House also end up dead, we learn both who and where and more importantly why. And learning why means the rest of Slough House is in danger, too. The plot is a race for time to see who gets to whom first.

I have two criteria for judging suspense novels like this: It must be so interesting that I want to turn the page to find out what happens next, and it must not tax my willing suspension of disbelief. Slough House is a believable page-turner, a success on both counts.

Moreover, Herron has drawn brilliant characters. Diana Taverner, MI5’s First Desk, is a cutthroat office politician. Disgraced politician Peter Judd is an oleaginous Macchiavellian whose way forward politically is as the power behind the throne. Catherine Standish is a white-knuckle recovering alcoholic who lends compassion, sanity, and a measure of organization to Slough House.

Then there’s her boss, Jackson Lamb—a streetwise Cold Warrior who smokes, drinks, flatulates, and insults readily and steadily, but also is the last face you want to see (or will see, period) if you mess with his Joes. Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes, and John Le Carre had George Smiley. Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb is one for the ages.

And the ending. If you’re not saying, “Don’t die” as you turn the last page, you haven’t been paying attention.

Highly recommended.

Book Reviewed
Mick Herron, Slough House (New York: SoHo Press, 2021).

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The Wisdom Pyramid | Book Review

“Our world has more and more information, but less and less wisdom,” writes Brett McCracken in The Wisdom Pyramid.

How much more information? Consider this: One billion gigabytes of data is called an exabyte. Prior to the Information Age, all the words humans had spoken since the dawn of time equaled five exabytes of data. In 2025, that amount of data will be produced every 15 minutes.

And you can access most of it on your smartphone.

The Information Age has considerable upsides, no doubt. McCracken notes three: The Internet gives us easy access to all this information, it offers us platforms to share our points of view, and through its rating algorithms, it is able to offer us the consensus view on a given topic.

On the downside, however, what McCracken calls “information gluttony” leaves users with multiple symptoms of dis-ease: anxiety, fragmentation, impotence in the face of multiple tragedies, decision paralysis, and confirmation bias. As McCracken put it, “the lure of infinite, godlike knowledge wreaks havoc.”

The downside isn’t just information gluttony, however. The Information Age also enflames our desires for “perpetual novelty” and “ ‘look within’ autonomy.” It discards the tried-and-true in favor of the new, with the assumption that newness necessarily entails improvement. Moreover, it exacerbates modernity’s skepticism of authority in favor of autonomy and authenticity. This can be seen in the terminological sleight of hand by which the truth has devolved to mytruth.

In short, McCracken puts it, the problem in the Information Age is that we consume “too much” information “too fast” and “too focused on [us].” Wisdom in such an age requires “discernment” of the sources of good information, “patience” in how we assess them, and “humility” before God.

So, how do we learn these virtues? According to McCracken, we need to rethink what and how much information we consume. In 1992, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the Food Pyramid, which described the kinds and amounts of food healthy eaters should consume daily. McCracken uses the Food Pyramid as the visual inspiration for the Wisdom Pyramid.

At the base of the Wisdom Pyramid is Scripture, “God’s very words to us,” McCracken writes. “When we read the Bible, we are encountering God himself.” The next layer is the Church, understood as both the contemporary local church and Christian tradition across time. “At its best, the church takes us out of the uncertainty of the ephemeral and places us in the certainty of the eternal.” The third layer is nature, which McCracken calls “a prism and amplifier of God’s glory.”

Layer four is books, which are “vital in cultivating wisdom — not only for the truths they contain, but also for the way they help us think.” Beauty is the fifth layer. This refers to the experience of things both God and humanity have made. “Beauty shapes our hearts, orients our loves, quiets our minds, and stills our souls in a noisy and weary world. It’s a profoundly important part of any wisdom diet,” McCracken writes.

The final layer of the Wisdom Pyramid is where most of us spend too much time and mental effort: the Internet and social media. Given the excesses and temptations of the digital world, it is tempting simply to go offline. But like the humans who created them, the Internet and social media can be good or bad, depending on how we use them. McCracken encourages engagement: “Don’t leave these spaces to rot. Instead, find ways to heal, to redeem, to be light in the darkness.”

As a Christian magazine editor who spends a good deal of time reading, both in print and online, I found The Wisdom Pyramid to be both insightful and helpful. It is insightful about the cause of the malaise I personally feel everyday as I interact online. And it is helpful about how to sift so much (and so often contradictory) information for nuggets of wisdom. I enthusiastically recommend this book to Christian readers. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter make it a good candidate for conversations in book clubs, small groups, and even Sunday school classes.

Book Reviewed
Brett McCracken, The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. I wrote this review for It is posted here with permission.

Power in Weakness | Book Review

Using worldly means to accomplish heavenly ends is a persistent temptation for pastors. Today, it takes the form of corporate business models. In Paul’s day, especially at Corinth, it was professional rhetoric models that emphasized “wisdom” and “power.” Church members not only expected their pastors to have these qualities, but they also fought over which pastors had them in greatest measure.

Paul offers a standing rebuke to all forms of this temptation in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “But [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

The title of Timothy G. Gombis’ excellent new book, Power in Weakness, alludes to this verse. The book offers “an extended meditation on the dynamics of power and weakness in pastoral ministry,” based on Paul’s letters and his portrayal in the Book of Acts.

At 184 pages, Power in Weakness is small, but its potential to reshape the pastoral imagination is large.

In the Introduction, Gombis highlights four key features of his approach to the topic:

First, he reflects on “the changes that took place in Paul’s approach to ministry after his conversion.” This might strike some readers as strange. Did Paul have a pre-conversion approach to ministry? Yes! According to Gombis, “Paul was vigorously engaged in attempting to bring about resurrection in life for God’s people on earth.”

When Jesus entered the very resurrection life Paul so assiduously sought, the content and manner of Paul’s ministry had to change. Paul’s ministry became “cruciform,” that is, cross shaped.

Gombis acknowledges his debt to Michael J. Gorman, who wrote the book’s Foreword, for the term cruciform. Gombis writes, “Cruciformity has a ‘narrative pattern,’ identifying the movement of Jesus from having all privileges to his refusal to exploit them for gain to his self-expenditure and his willingly going to the point of death on a cross.” That is the weakness God fills with His own power.

Second, Gombis situates the Church’s ministry “within a cosmically contested situation.” For Paul, as for other Jews of his day, there is more to life than the human and mundane.

Prior to the Damascus Road, Paul believed the coming Messiah would immediately overthrow His enemies and establish God’s kingdom with all its benefits. After the Damascus Road, Paul realized Christ inaugurated God’s kingdom in the midst of “this age” and will consummate “the age to come” at His Second Coming. The Church now lives in tension between those two ages.

Third, for Gombis, the Church is “the place on earth where God resides.” That is to say, “The very power that raised Jesus from the dead now fills and pervades churches that gather in the name of Jesus.” Consequently, churches cannot act as if they are simply one social organization among many others. They are unique and must live out the distinctiveness of their cruciform calling in the midst of a dying world.

Fourth, Gombis “goes beyond mining the ‘Pastoral Epistles’ … to reflect theologically on the entire New Testament portrait of Paul.” This is where the rubber meets the road, where we see how Paul’s theological vision shaped his pastoral practice.

Gombis focuses especially on the temptations of “coercive power,” “image maintenance,” and “credential accumulation.” He also notes how cruciformity changes the way pastors approach preaching, church discipline, “big” sins, and personal limitations.

Even the definition of leadership changes, according to Gombis:

While we may speak of pastoral ministry in leadership terms, we would do well to be watchful for the worldly ideologies and practices that may be contained in the language. The pastoral task involves nurture and cultivation of communities to take the corporate shape of the cross so that they put themselves in a position to draw upon the life of God as he pours out resurrection power among them.

I highly recommend Power in Weakness to pastors. As ministers of the gospel, our theology needs to shape our practices if our ministries are to have integrity. Timothy G. Gombis adeptly shows how Paul modeled such integrity.

I would not recommend pastors read this book alone, however. Read it with the church members you labor alongside, especially board members and key volunteers. It is not just the pastor’s ministry vision that needs transformation, after all. It is the whole church’s.

Book Reviewed
Timothy G. Gombis, Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2021).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. I wrote this review for It appears here with permission.

Faithful Theology: An Introduction | Book Review

Faithful Theology is the first book in Crossway’s Short Studies in Systematic Theology series. The purpose of each book is to “(1) introduce the doctrine [under examination], (2) set it in context, (3) develop it from Scripture, (4) draw the various threads together, and (5) bring it to bear on the Christian life.” Volumes already published or in the works examine the Trinity (which I reviewed here), God’s attributes, the person of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the church.

Faithful Theology differs from the other volumes in that it deals with theological method rather than a theological doctrine. As Graham A. Cole writes, “This book is about the method to use in doing faithful theology: faithful to God, faithful to God’s word.” More specifically, it focuses on the move “from Scripture to doctrine.”

Here is the book’s table of contents:

  1. The Word of Revelation
  2. The Witness of Christian Thought and Practice
  3. The World of Human Brokenness
  4. The Work of Wisdom
  5. The Way of Worship: Putting It all Together in Thought and Life

Cole’s method is similar to what Albert C. Outler called “the Wesleyan Quadrilateral” of Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. However, Cole takes pains to note that these elements are not equal. Scripture is norma normans (“a norming norm”), while the others are norma normata (“a normed norm”).

Moreover, Cole emphasizes that the goal of theology is worship. “Faithful thinking ought not to be divorced from faithful living,” he writes. Here, he understands worship not merely as the religious devotion we offer to God, but the entire manner in which we live.

Cole acknowledges that the logical order of theological method is Scripture, tradition, experience (or “brokenness,” in his terms), but the actual order is nonlinear. For example, we may start with an existential problem or a philosophical conundrum and go back to Scripture and tradition to see what they say.

The theological perspective of this book is what Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy have called the “traditional evangelical model”: “Scriptures contain a body of divinely given information actually expressed or capable of being expressed in propositions.” They contrast it with the “postfoundationalist model.” According to Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, in the latter model, “Our understanding of Scripture will always be filtered through the lenses of who we are and where we are in space and time.”

Cole acknowledges the force of the postfoundational model’s insight about context, but he argues that the traditional evangelical model can incorporate it. He writes, “What needs to be noted is that the human imagination … enables us to transcend our own times and establish a critical distance from them.” He discusses how to do this in chapter 3, “The World of Human Brokenness.”

The preface notes that the series’ purpose is “to equip the church to faithfully understand, love, teach, and apply what God has revealed in Scripture about a variety of topics.” Beyond that statement, it does not specify the series’ intended readership. Having read both this book and the one on the Trinity, I believe theologically interested laypeople and undergraduate theology students will profit most from the books.

One caveat: Crossway is an evangelical publisher in the Reformed tradition. This means many of their other books articulate a theology that Pentecostal readers such as myself do not agree with on the topics of Calvinism, complementarianism, and charismatic gifts. I have not read anything that concerns me in this series’ books on theological method or the Trinity, however, even though I might have stated things a bit differently here and there.

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

The QAnon Deception | Book Review

On Saturday, October 28, 2017, a user named “Q Clearance Patriot” posted the following message on a 4Chan imageboard: “Hillary Clinton will be arrested between 7:45 AM – 8:30 AM EST on Monday – the morning on Oct 30, 2017.”

Thus began QAnon, an influential conspiracist movement on the fringes of American politics.

The QAnon Deception by James A. Beverley is a fair-minded, well-researched introduction and critique of this movement. The author is associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Woodway, Texas; research professor at Tyndale University in Toronto, Canada; and a specialist in new religions. He writes for a general audience, though as an evangelical Christian, he occasionally offers a theological evaluation of Q or warns of its infiltration in some quarters of American Christianity.

According to QAnon lore, Q Clearance Patriot — more commonly, “Q” — is “a high-ranking military figure who works with President Trump to provide important data on what is going on in Trump’s battles to defeat the enemies of democracy,” writes Beverley. (A “Q clearance” is a national security designation allowing a person to view top-secret intelligence.) Q posts cryptic messages (“Drops”) to user boards (first 4chan, and now 8chan/8kun) to update followers (“Anons”) about the progress of Trump’s battles.

Q’s messages seem to be cryptic by intention. One reason is supposedly defensive, to keep democracy’s enemies guessing. Another reason is to force Anons to think for themselves. As Q wrote on August 17, 2018: “This movement challenges people to not simply trust what is being reported. Research for yourself. Think for yourself. Trust yourself.”

Even so, a number of early QAnon adherents have shaped the basic contours of the movement. They are known as “bakers.” According to Beverley, the most influential of them are James Coleman Rogers (“Pamphlet Anon”), Paul Furber (“Baruch the Scribe”) and Tracy Diaz, (“Tracy Beanz”).

As a movement, QAnon is a clearinghouse for conspiracy theories. Beverley writes, “The QAnon belief system is composed of a conglomerate of conspiracy theories. Some are old ones involving the Rothschilds and the Illuminati, while others are new claims involving Donald Trump.”

The movement’s “ultimate conspiracy,” however, involves “Satanism and child sacrifice,” according to Beverley. “Joe M,” an influential QAnon baker, summarizes the matter this way:

The purest of pure evil — beyond theft, corruption, murder, and blackmail — is the kidnapping, torture, raping, and sacrificing of children. The perpetrators are Luciferians and Satan-worshippers. They run pedophile networks across continents, through the Vatican, and underneath the cover of charities and child protective services. In short, they target and infiltrate any organization that puts them closest to their victims.

Obviously, pedophilia is evil, and all should oppose it. But is satanic child sacrifice really the goal of a cabal of global elites? That is a central claim made by QAnon adherents.

And that brings us to The QAnon Deception’s assessment of the movement. Throughout the book, Beverley rightfully and helpfully reminds readers not to attack the motives, intelligence, or sanity of QAnon adherents. People of good will can be wrong, after all, even grievously so.

What needs to be evaluated are QAnon’s truth claims, the statements QAnon makes about how the world works. On that count, QAnon is a failure. Beverley scatters his criticisms of QAnon throughout the book, helpfully gathering and summarizing them in the Afterword. They fall into three broad categories:

Doubts about Q. Though Q posted 4,953 times between October 28, 2017, and December 8, 2020, no one knows Q’s identity. Though QAnon lore portrays him as a high-ranking military figure, there is no proof of this, and some lines of evidence suggest several people post as Q.

Moreover, Q posts appear exclusively on imageboards (4chan, 8chan/8kun) that Beverley describes as “the racist, bigoted, sexist, and hateful basements of the Internet.” Why would a morally upstanding military figure reveal the existence of a global conspiracy of satanic pedophiles on imageboards infamous for, among other things, posting pornography (including child pornography)?

As quoted above, Q encouraged Anons to think for themselves. So, why do they subscribe to the beliefs of someone they know nothing about?

Doubts about Q’s Drops. Second, Anons follow Q because they believe he offers them an insider’s perspective on a global conspiracy. His predictions are like Ariadne’s thread, leading Anons out of the labyrinthine confusion of day-to-day politics into the clear light of day about what actually drives current events.

The problem is that many, if not most, of Q’s predictions don’t pan out. Take the first Drop quoted at the outset of this review. It made a very specific prediction about the date and time of Hilary Clinton’s impending arrest. More than three years later, that arrest still has not happened. Failed predictions — including about President Trump’s 2020 reelection — are leading many Anons to grow disillusioned with Q and the QAnon movement.

QAnon’s Harms. Third, Beverley writes, “the QAnon movement has harmed individual, family, social and political life in America and around the world.” It has impugned politicians without evidence, predicted events that didn’t happen, divided Americans needlessly, and inspired a few extremists to commit crimes.

Though The QAnon Deception was published a month before rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, it is not coincidental that the most photographed person who participated in that event was Jake Angeli — the guy in the fur hat with horns — who is known as the “QAnon Shaman.” Belief leads to action, it seems, and bad beliefs to bad actions.

I highly recommend James A. Beverley’s The QAnon Deception to readers interested in learning more about QAnon. Its criticisms of the movement hit their target. And as a Christian minister, I especially appreciate those occasions when Beverley turns from his general audience and addresses his fellow evangelicals about Q’s influence among some of our fellow churchgoers. His book deserves a wide and influential reading.

Book Reviewed
James A. Beverley, The QAnon Deception: Everything You Need to Know about the World’s Most Dangerous Conspiracy Theory (Concord, NC: EqualTime Books, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review first appeared at and is posted here with permission.

What Does the Bible Say About Missions? | Influence Podcast

Many Christians begin the New Year with a renewed determination to read their Bibles. Their intention is good, obviously, but it needs to partner with understanding and action if it’s to do us any good. In his new book, Missionary God, Missionary Bible, Dr. Dick Brogden argues that the Bible has a missional message: God desires to bless all nations.

That’s the message I’m talking to Dr. Brogden about in Episode 241 of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Dick Brogden is an ordained missionary with Assemblies of God World Missions. He has ministered among Muslims in East Africa and the Middle East for nearly a quarter-century. Together with his wife, he is cofounder of Live Dead, a church-planting movement among people groups not yet reached by the gospel.

P.S. You can read my recommendation of the book at Amazon. As always, if you like it, please click “Helpful” on my review page.

P.P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from with permission.

How Do We Know? | Book Review

How Do We Know? By James K. Dew Jr. and Mark W. Foreman is an introduction to epistemology, the theory of knowledge. It is also the inaugural volume in IVP Academic’s new series, Questions in Christian Philosophy. The next volume, How Do We Reason? by Forrest E. Baird, is an introduction to logic and comes out in April 2021.

Here is the table of contents:

  1. What Is Epistemology?
  2. What Is Knowledge?
  3. Where Does Knowledge Come From?
  4. What Is Truth, and How Do We Find It?
  5. What Are Inferences, and How Do They Work?
  6. What Do We Perceive?
  7. Do We Need Justification?
  8. Can We Be Objective in Our View of the World?
  9. What Is Virtue Epistemology?
  10. Do We Have Revelation?
  11. How Certain Can We Be?

As can be seen from this table, the book asks the basic questions of epistemology. Dew and Foreman outline the most common answers to each question, noting their strengths and weaknesses. They write clearly and use everyday illustrations to make their points.

The authors note that the book is for “those with no background in philosophy,” and it brings a “Christian perspective” to bear on the topic. This perspective is most evident in the book’s discussions about the possibility of divine revelation and of Reformed epistemology.

Given that How Do We Know? is published by the academic imprint of an evangelical publisher, I assume that its primary readers will be college students, especially at Christian colleges and universities. However, readers who aren’t college students—or even Christians—can profit from the book’s discussion of the issues, which largely tracks with the content of other primers on epistemology.

One final note: This is the book’s second edition. Its major difference from the first edition is the addition of chapter 8, “Can We Be Objective in Our View of the World?”

Book Reviewed
James K. Dew Jr. and Mark W. Foreman, How Do We Know? An Introduction to Epistemology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

The Trinity: An Introduction | Book Review

The Trinity: An Introduction by Scott R. Swain is the second book in Crossway’s Short Studies in Systematic Theology series. The first was Graham A. Cole’s Faithful Theology: an Introduction. According to series editors, Cole himself and Oren R. Martin, “each volume (1) introduces the doctrine, (2) sets it in context, (3) develops it from Scripture, (4) draws the various threads together, and (5) brings it to bear on the Christian life.”

Unfortunately, The Trinity does not accomplish the first two items in the editors’ list. In my opinion, one cannot understand Trinitarianism, the Christian doctrine of God, without understanding its historical development and creedal/confessional definition. Swain justifies this in terms of space limitations: “The book’s limitations in space and focus mean that it will not give extensive attention to the doctrine’s historical development, polemical uses, or more sophisticated dogmatic elaborations.” Given that this text is explicitly introductory, Swain’s choice to skip those topics—not to mention his editors’ decision to allow it—is difficult to understand.

Fortunately, what The Trinity focuses on is very helpful. Swain focuses on “the basic grammar of scriptural Trinitarianism.” He writes: “If Scripture provides the primary discourse of Trinitarian doctrine, theology is that discipline concerned with understanding and communicating Scripture’s basic grammar so that Christians may become fluent, well-formed readers and speakers of scriptural teaching.” This approach is helpful because the doctrinal definition of Trinitarianism employs terms that are not found in Scripture, terms that clarify what Scripture means and demonstrate is internal coherence. One must understand the interplay of these texts—along with the worship patterns of the early church—in order to understand why Christian theologians employed philosophical terms to define the doctrine. Only by doing so could they show the meaning and coherence of those biblical texts.

Here is the book’s table of contents:

  1. The Bible and the Trinity: The Basic Grammar
  2. The Bible and the Trinity: Three Types of Texts
  3. The Simplicity of God
  4. God the Father
  5. God the Son
  6. God the Holy Spirit
  7. The Shape of God’s Triune Work
  8. The End of God’s Triune Work

Although The Trinity describes itself as an introduction, readers need to have at least a passing familiarity with the doctrine and its basic terms before they read the book, or they might feel a bit lost in it. My guess is that the Short Studies in Systematic Theology is directed at Bible college students and seminarians, who are the most likely to consume introductory books on systematic theology. I believe pastors and theologically proficient church leaders and members can also benefit from the book. It will enrich their understanding of why sound biblical theology results in Trinitarianism, and it will help them connect what sometimes seems like an abstract doctrine to the Bible’s core concern, namely, God’s salvation of lost humanity.

Book Reviewed
Scott R. Swain, The Trinity: An Introduction (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

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