Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Daniel J. Treier, Theology and the Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture) (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015), 298 Pps., $26.00.
Kevin J. Vanhoozer is Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is the author of many books, several of which are recent works, including Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion and Authorship (Cambridge University Press, 2012), and Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine (Westminster John Knox Press, 2014). Daniel J. Treier is Blanchard Professor of Theology at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. He is the author of three books, including Virtue and the Voice of God: Toward Theology as Wisdom (Eerdmans, 2006) and Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture (Baker Academic, 2008), and Proverbs & Ecclesiastes (Brazos Press, 2011).
The present situation of theology in general calls for a fresh, galvanizing account of the ways in which evangelical theology can, and should, “mirror” the teaching of Scripture. In spite of contemporary trends toward fragmentation and factionalism, these authors assert that we can preserve the elusive center of evangelical theology, and perhaps even redeem the label, by retrieving the original meaning of it. The most basic boundaries marking the way of this healthy center is formed around a theologically faithful, ecclesiastically habitable approach to Scripture and doctrine. This book seeks to do just that. Evangelicalism, in their understanding, refers to a guiding hope and eschatological reality, not an already-accomplished achievement.
The subtitle of the book, invoking “mere evangelical”, hearkens back to C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, with the authors noting that it does not imply minimalism, but the greatest common denominator which ought to unify denominations instead. Moreover, mere evangelical theology is “first theology,” meaning that it pertains to what is most important: Christ’s death and resurrection, which makes the bible critically important to first theology. Christ is the supreme object of the witness of the Spirit, and he is the supreme content of the Scriptures. In fact, mere evangelical first theology treats theological prolegomena, the biblical gospel, and the church together by situating all three within the triune economy of God. They propose that mere evangelical theology should aspire to be anchored in the biblical, Trinitarian, and cruciform gospel. The book rests upon two overarching metaphors: first, the subtitle of the book evokes the image of the church as God’s household; second, the aspiration of the title, that is, mirroring, involves both imaging God by reflecting scriptural truth in our living, and the corresponding intellectual task of evangelical theology – reflecting the bible’s forms and content in our teaching. Because mirroring works two ways, the perspective of church traditions affects our ability to see the big picture, and vice versa.
Perceptions that evangelicalism is crumbling or chaotic reflect at least four recent developments, which identify challenges that any evangelical theology must address: 1) more robust academic engagement, 2) an increased awareness of the tradition in the creeds, texts, and practices of early Christianity, 3) an interest in global Christianity, and 4) interfaces with emergent Christianity and culture. A central challenge for evangelical theology involves pursuing newfound engagement with different traditions, as the era of Reformed hegemony is now over (35). While the doctrine of the Trinity, and God’s self-revelation by Word and Spirit are vital components of evangelical theology, the doctrines of Scripture and the Holy Spirit increasingly revel rather than resolve differences within the large evangelical umbrella.
The authors present a united clear distillation of evangelical theology as the pursuit of wisdom, via theological interpretation of the bible, in the drama of the church’s witness and worship. Part one sketches this Christological realism and ecclesiological approach in two chapters that deal with the “economy of light,” presenting evangelical theology as an “anchored” set. The two chapters in fact mirror each other: each have the same eight-part structure that opens with a problem and then examines what is in Christ from different angles. Chapter 1 presents a theological ontology, an investigation into the gospel of God and the God of the gospel, focusing on the reality behind the mirror of Scripture – that is, the economic Trinity that mirrors the immanent Trinity. The second chapter presents a theological epistemology that focuses on the way in which biblical testimony yields knowledge, and the way biblical truth is preserved as doctrine comes into focus, which is highlights the truth in and of the mirror of Scripture.
Part two builds upon part one’s Christocentric realism that sketched the agenda for evangelical theology, analyzing in detail how that agenda applies to evangelical theology currently being practiced. It relates the theological prolegomena to evangelical ecclesiology, depicting the biblically rooted catholicity that not only respects particular church traditions but also pursues ecumenical opportunities. Chapter 3 in fact defines and defends an account of theology as the wisdom of the whole people of God. Chapter 4 depicts a theological interpretation of the bible as central to seeking wisdom. The fifth chapter moves to ecclesiology, sketching how theology serves the people of God amid missional fellowship. And finally, chapter 6 shifts the focus to the academy, noting how evangelical theology can benefit from and contribute to scholarly excellence.
What ultimately defines evangelicalism is God’s word and God’s act. Herein, the authors do not pretend to give a universally compelling description of what evangelicals profess to practice, but rather a normative proposal of what they ought to profess and practice. They believe that evangelicals, perhaps more than other groups, are the most fitting audience for this book. They posit such because evangelicals understand themselves to be a transdenominational movement within the broader church, they understand themselves to be a retrieving movement that returns again and again to the Scriptures to regain their bearings, and because they understand themselves to be a reviving movement that encourages heartfelt response, in the power of the Spirit, to the Word of God. Vanhoozer and Treier’s “mere” evangelical theology is an exercise in Christian wisdom for the purpose of edifying the fellowship of saints within the church. Highly recommended to all comers.
Holy Apostles College and Seminary