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A Call to Christian Formation: How Theology Makes Sense of Our World

28 October 2022 By David Daniels

An extended review of a 2021 book by John C. Clark & Marcus Peter Johnson

Note: Our print issue contains a shorter version of this review. Faith Today welcomes your thoughts on any of our reviews. We also welcome suggestions of other Canadian Christian books to review: Contact us.

Baker Academic, 2021. 224 pages. $18 (e-book $14)

Many Christians view theology as abstract, philosophical and of little value in our pragmatic, results-driven culture. But Clark and Johnson will have none of it, arguing that without a solid biblical theological foundation Christians will never understand the “deepest truth of human existence and meaning.” Good theology is essential to becoming fully formed Christians.

Theology can never mean less than “cheerful obedience to the command of Jesus Christ” – requiring ongoing obedience to the Scriptures and a humble acknowledgement that our comprehension of reality has been “compromised and damaged by our fall into sin.” Theological recovery must be “reclaimed as the specific province and mission of the church.”

The doctrine of the Trinity, described as the “linchpin of any and all authentic Christian belief,” forms the foundation for true Christian theology – all reality flows from this truth. Because humankind has been created in the image of God, “anthropological absurdities such as technophilia, homoeroticism, transgenderism, racism, abortionism, and sexism” are seen to be aberrations that fail to “reflect or echo the reality of God.”

The natural context for theological formation is the Church because conformity to Christ, who is the head of the Church, is the goal of theology. Historically, all major Christian theologians were fully immersed in church life. It was the rise of modernity that ultimately sidelined theology, effectively removing it from the daily lives of ordinary Christians. Truly Christian theologians come from within the Church, and serve in the name of the Church.

Theology gives birth to liturgy – the outward expression of our deepest theological convictions. Liturgy is how the Church publicly shows her belief that all creation has been created by and for the Son of God who holds all things together. Liturgy “has a two-fold purpose: it shapes our deepest, God-given purpose (to love and worship God), and it expresses that purpose by what we think, say, and do.”

However, as sinners living in a sinful world, our liturgies may be holy or profane. Sadly, many Christians holding orthodox beliefs live unorthodox lives. Their liturgies contradict their professed beliefs, underlying the critical need for teaching biblically informed theology within the church. If Christians are not formed by the Word of God, they will be formed by Satan who has his own theology and liturgy.

Christian theology encompasses paradox leading to mystery for it involves “Christ as the transcendent revelation of God’s purpose in creation and redemption.” We should not fear paradox and mystery. We are, after all, finite being worshiping and serving and infinite God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Clark and Johnson provide a helpful list of paradoxes in Christianity, encouraging readers to resist denying they exist. When the church resists embracing paradox and divine mystery, she loses interest in revelation and becomes vulnerable to worldly philosophies and scientific method. Readers are encouraged to believe and submit to divine revelation. It is a reminder that the just shall live by faith.

Drawing from the work of J.I. Packer and B.B. Warfield, the book closes with six theses on the character and calling of theology. Theology invites Christians to accept the call of Christ to be fully transformed by and conformed to him; to be fully committed to the triune God; to wholeheartedly serve the Church in its divine calling; to understand theology is a way of life, not simply a subject to learn; to recognize its source is in holy Scripture; and that it demands and produces godly humility.

Clark and Johnson have gifted the evangelical church with a carefully crafted argument for returning robust and biblically saturated Christian theology to the Church where it rightfully belongs. They successfully demonstrate how good theology enables us to understand our world.

(Both authors have PhDs from St. Michael's College, University of Toronto, and teach at Moody Bible Institute in Illinois.)

Not only does this book present a convincing case for the Church as the proper venue for teaching theology, it also contains enough theology itself to be a useful resource for churches wishing to beef up their discipleship ministries. Scripture and subject indices are included, making this an easily referenced text.

Pastors, small group leaders and teachers, and every Christian seeking to live faithfully in a broken world, will find this a great resource for enabling the Church to fulfill her calling. I hope it is warmly received and widely read.

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