Ed: Why do we need an evangelical theology?
Daniel: Faith seeks understanding. People who embrace the gospel want to know the glorious God who has saved them, and to follow Jesus as the Holy Spirit empowers them. Evangelical Protestants distinctively root such theological understanding in Scripture as God’s Word. That means trying to understand the unified teaching of the Bible in connection with the church’s witness past and present.
At our worst, we fall into individualistic faith that lacks coherent or churchly understanding—either seeking surface unity without biblical understanding, or else championing secondary truths without Christian unity. At best, though, an evangelical theology helps us to love the God of grace and to labor with fellow believers, despite some of our differences, in living out the gospel.
Ed: I’m in if you see theology as key to the future of evangelicalism. Can it help get us out of the mess we are in?
Daniel: We have to be sober about theology’s possibilities and pitfalls. There are scandals not only of the evangelical mind but also of the evangelical conscience and even of the evangelical mission. So we must not champion theology in a way that simply puffs us up with knowledge (1 Cor. 8:1).
The same passage in 1 Corinthians, though, suggests that proper theological understanding can foster Christian love. Hence, theology can help evangelicals with our current mess by calling us out of political triumphalism and tribalism. Theology should refocus us on the overarching reality of the biblical gospel. The gospel has implications for all of life insofar as it calls us, in your words, to make much of Jesus.
Ed: Many people comment on the shallowness of evangelical theological awareness. How can churches change that? Is there a way to help people want to know more theology?
Daniel: Theologians and pastors have their share of responsibility for evangelical shallowness. On one hand, we traffic in jargon; on the other hand, we underestimate lay interest in a coherent understanding of God’s Word. A theological revival in evangelical churches would probably include courageously improving initial catechesis, concretely connecting subsequent instruction with specific Scripture texts, and creatively making space for people to ask questions that will integrate biblical doctrine with daily life.
We also have to confront the shadow side of evangelical commitment to the priesthood of all believers. Too often, we treat theological positions as identity markers, as biblical shibboleths we doggedly accept or simplistically reject. Instead of biblical conviction and teachable discernment, we traffic in divisive suspicion and dogmatism. Confronting this tendency probably requires better pastoral training and more courageous pastoral intervention.
Ed: What makes Introducing Evangelical Theology different from a more generic theology volume?
Daniel: Other theology textbooks have their virtues, but I have struggled to find a book that is (1) deeply biblical, yet without “prooftexting”; (2) specifically evangelical, yet without neglecting the wider Christian tradition; (3) creedal, yet without favoring “high” church over “free” church; (4) detailed, yet without being dull; (5) current with global and scholarly developments, yet without being trendy. In light of the priesthood of all believers, I have worked hard to explain biblical concepts and theological debates with plain language and short sentences.
I hope that people will recognize here a tradition of evangelical theology inaugurated by the Protestant Reformation; revived in the era of Edwards, Wesley, and Whitefield; fundamentally faithful, yet culturally reengaged, thanks to the Henry generation; and challenged by Stott, Padilla, and others at Lausanne to keep the gospel central while pursuing integral forms of mission.
Put differently, I hope that this textbook will be a fitting instructional companion to the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.
I also hope that people will encounter here some biblical reforms that evangelical theology needs to embrace more wholeheartedly: notably, the classic roots of catechesis in the Trinitarian creeds, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. These roots undergird a more extensive approach of expounding key biblical texts to anchor particular doctrines, such as Isaiah 40 for the doctrine of God.
I recently came across J. I. Packer’s exposition of the Apostle’s Creed, which I had never heard of. My conviction increased that sometimes earlier evangelical pioneers were pointing us toward paths we paid little attention to. At the same time, there are neglected and newer theological voices that can help us to hear God’s Word more fully and faithfully. So I have tried to reconnect evangelicals with a lost inheritance as well as introduce them to contemporary resources.