My Rating – If you are looking for something (if you’ve read other Systematics then pass)
Level – Fairly easy read, longer (400 pages) and a bit repetitive
This book is a mix of things – an intro to Systematic Theology, a teaching guide, and reference book to broad theological topics. Allison writes from a broadly Evangelical Protestant perspective. The author has broken the book into eight parts – the doctrines of the Word of God, God, God’s Creatures, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Salvation, the Church, and Future Things. Each part has varying numbers of chapters, giving you 50 total.
As the subtitle states, the point of the book is to be a guide to understanding and teaching theology, and this leads to a somewhat unique structure to each chapter. It starts with a one or two sentence summary, then bullet points of the main themes, and a list of key scriptures. The largest section of each chapter is ‘understanding the doctrine’, which is broken into three sections – major affirmations, Biblical support, and major errors. After this is ‘enacting the doctrine’, which is basically what the doctrine looks like in our lives, followed by ‘teaching the doctrine’ which includes discussion points as well as a teaching outline. Each chapter ends with a list of resources, however only three Systematics are listed.
I’ll start out by saying I realize this is an ambitious book, attempting to be both an intro to theology as well as a teaching guide to Systematics. As an intro, I think Allison does an adequate job. Most full books on theology pass the 800 mark, many going in to the 1,200-1,500 range, if not multiple volumes, so I appreciate his attempt to condense it to about 200 pages or so. Unfortunately, it still manages to feel too redundant. Part of this is due to the structure, having a summary and bullet points then the body, but I think the publishers must have had the intent to make each chapter stand on it’s own, as opposed to building on each other. This forces him to refer back to chapters (or state future points) and the points get repetitive. On the other hand, this is also a great way to learn and internalize the content, which may well have been the goal.
As a teaching guide, I think this could come in handy. The teaching outline presented at the end of each chapter appears to be quite helpful. The book could also function as a quick reference if you have other Systematics you like to use. If you broke out the teaching portions, you might end up with a 125-150 page book, which would likely be worth it on it’s own. If you are looking for something to help you teach theology to other, and you are already familiar and have other books, I think this book would be worth a look. However, as far as a book to study theology on your own, you are probably better off finding something else.
I’ll end the review with a couple theological points and issues regarding the book. First, the main reason I can’t really recommend the book as a way to begin deep study into theology, is that he does argue much with counter points. He lists them as errors, but doesn’t really state how/why others believe this or what their proof-texts necessarily are. If you are really trying to learn at a deeper level, you need to know more about the errors than just that they are errors.
My other problem, and I think this is worse, is that while trying to keep the book geared toward a broader theological level, he gives positive info an different theologies, some of which are completely incompatible. Certain points of Reformed and Arminianist theology cannot both be true. One of them has to be an error, and it is strange that he did not take a stand (though as you read his ‘Biblical support’ it is clear at times where he falls). Likewise, he lists all the points of Dispensationalist theology as equal to Reformed and other historic views of theology. While refusing to call this an error, he does come down on other things, such as calling Annihilationism a heresy. This is especially odd as he wrote a text book on Historical Theology and knows well that support for Annihilationism has much, much deeper historical roots that theologies such as Dispensationalism. I find it odd the doctrines for which he will take a hard stand, will promoting whole theological systems that are wholly incompatible with each other. It is a major failure of the book and one of the reasons I cannot recommend it as much as I would like. You’d be better served by are larger study that looks at points and counterpoints of each doctrine/theology or a study that takes a strictly orthodox view.
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.