Archive | Theology

Ethics | Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The cover of Bonhoeffer's EthicsSometimes I think I really have my life more or less behind me now and that all that would remain for me to do would be to finish my Ethics . . . (14)

Unfortunately, he was unable to finish. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazi regime on April 9, 1945, a mere two weeks before the allies liberated the Flossenbürg concentration camp which held him. The essays and notes which comprise Ethics were gathered and published posthumously.

Despite the lack of unified structure or flow to the book, the work is rich. Bonhoeffer’s penetrating mind reached deeply into a variety of ethical topics. Consider, for example, this meditation on obedience and freedom:

Obedience restrains freedom; and freedom ennobles obedience. Obedience binds the creature to the Creator and freedom enables the creature to stand before the Creator as one who is made in His image. (248)

Bonhoeffer’s Lutheran background is evident throughout this work. His discussion of the church and the world, the three uses of the law, and the role of the conscience in the life of a believer all reveal a Lutheran mind at work.

Ethics is a slow read. It’s a book that forces you to slow down and consider the details of what it means to be an ethical Christian.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics. Translated by Neville Horton Smith. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995 (1955).

The Peaceable Kingdom | Stanley Hauerwas

The cover of Hauerwas' The Peaceable KingdomWe often think of Christian ethics in response to a concrete problem. Did that politician abuse his power when he dated that intern? Is it ethical for a rape victim to have an abortion? Is it permissible to lie in order to serve the greater good? Where can we go to find the resources to answer these questions?

Many Christians, especially of evangelical stripe, go to the Bible—Hauerwas goes to church. It’s not that Hauerwas doesn’t value scripture, but he knows that scripture was written by and formed within the church. Scripture is best read together, within the context of the church. It is in the community of the baptized that believers grow in virtue. It is in the church that Christians learn their place in God’s story and have their imaginations freed to think truly and ethically.

The entire book centres around chapter 5, “Jesus: The Presence of the Peaceable Kingdom” (72-95). The story of Jesus (not Christological reflection) is “meant not only to display [Jesus’] life, but to train us to situate our lives in relation to that life” (74). The life of Jesus is characterized by nonviolent love.

Thus to be like Jesus is to join him in the journey through which we are trained to be a people claiming citizenship in God’s kingdom of nonviolent love—a love that would overcome the powers of this world, not through coercion and force, but through the power of this one man’s death. (76)

The church embodies an alternate reality—true to reality. The church the place where nonviolent love reigns and thus bears witness to the world that Christ is present. (Or at least it should be thus. Violence and disunity threaten the witness of the church to its core.)

When it’s time to make difficult moral and ethical decisions, we will have been apprenticed by the church into the life of Christ and will have become the sort of people capable of making those hard choices.


Hauerwas, Stanley. The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002 (1983).

From Pentecost to the Triune God | Steven M. Studebaker

The cover of Studebaker's From Pentecost to the Triune GodIt should go without saying in 2017, but in case you haven’t heard, pentecostal scholarship has come of age. The days when pentecostals only focused on the Luke-Acts canon (as fruitful as it is) are over. From Pentecost to the Triune God is an exemplar of current pentecostal thought. In it, Steven M. Studebaker presents a full-orbed theology of the Trinity that gives the role of the Spirit its proper place.

Experience and the Spirit of Christ

From Pentecost to the Triune God falls into three sections. In section one (chapters 1 and 2), Studebaker argues for the importance of bringing experience to exegesis. “Since the ancient Israelites reflected on their formative religious experiences, so can contemporary Pentecostals (and all Christians)” (19). Next he turns his attention to the overarching role of the Spirit throughout the entire canon. A survey of scripture shows that the Spirit’s activity has three characteristics: liminal, constitutional, and eschatological. Theses three characteristics are exhibited in the three main narrative roles: creation-redemption, the life of Jesus, and Pentecost. This chapter is a must-read for pneumatology students of all stripes.

The array of three characteristics spread across three narrative roles leads to nine sections full of insight into the Spirit. I’ll share one of them in this review: the constitutional role of the Spirit in the life of Jesus. Theologians often describe the Trinity in terms of procession. The Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit proceeds either from the Son or the Father and the Son. This understanding of the Trinity can lead to a Logos Christology which subordinates the Spirit. Studebaker points out that twice in scripture that the Spirit is named the “Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9, 1 Peter 1:11). The simple genitive construction can have two meanings:

  1. “Of” can mean source—the Spirit which proceeds from Christ. This underscores a Logos Christology.
  2. “Of” can mean origin—the Spirit which is the “source of the incarnation of Jesus Christ” (82). This opens the door for a Spirit Christology to be developed.

The same Spirit which hovered over the surface of the waters and played a constitutive role in creation hovered over Mary’s womb and played a constitutive role in the incarnation. It’s important to note that Studebaker does not develop his Spirit Christology in order to replace Logos theology, the doctrine of processions, or even the mutual love model. His Spirit Christology adds to the richness of our understanding of the Trinity, underscoring the Spirit’s personhood.

Trinitarian Theology Through the Ages

Trinitarian theology has a lengthy pedigree. In the second section (chapters 3-5), Studebaker delves into the history of Trinitarian theology and evaluates various traditions in light of the theology he developed in the second chapter.

Studebaker delves deep. He considers the roots of Eastern and Western Trinitarianism before moving to the Reformation, Evangelicalism, and Charismatic theologies. Using a variety of dialogue partners representative of the various positions, he considers the strengths and weaknesses of the various views before suggesting what his theological vision has contribute.

World Religions and Environmentalism

The final two chapters are a test drive of Studebaker’s freshly envisioned theology. In “The Spirit of Pentecost and Theology of Religions,” he offers a provocative view that will challenge the presuppositions of many pentecostals. Arguing exegetically that the Spirit was indeed poured out upon all flesh (not just believers), it follows that anyone who responds to the Spirit of Christ (regardless of their religion) will be saved.

The scope of the creative-redemptive work of the Spirit of Pentecost is universal. The Spirit is always seeking to initiate people into and to develop in them a fuller experience of the Spirit of Pentecost. (239)

It’s worth noting that Studebaker is not a Universalist. Although the outpouring of the Spirit is universal, human response to the Spirit of Pentecost is not. This understanding of the Spirit will enable Christians to re-envision mission not as a way carry Jesus to places he’s never been, but as a way to participate in the mission of the Spirit of Pentecost.

The final chapter considers creation care. If creation-redemption is one act of the Spirit, then the theological separation of common and special grace is a fiction. “The Spirit’s work does not have two orders—creation and redemption—but one, the redemption of creation” (261). It follows that creation care is a way of participating in the work of the Spirit who filled the liminal space between chaos and order, played a constitutive role in creation-redemption, and brought all things to eschatological fulfilment at Pentecost.

[F]ew Pentecostal and evangelical Christians consider creation care as an arena of the Spirit’s work and, much less, as a form of sanctification and path of discipleship. However, creation care, no less than the traditional disciplines of Christian formation, is a way that Christians can “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). In other words, buying organic fair-trade coffee and turning the heat down may be just as much a way “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” as praying, attending church, and fasting ( Phil. 2:12). (262)

From Pentecost to the Triune God is more than theology for Pentecostals—it’s a detailed and inspiring look at the life of the Trinue God from the perspective of its least-recognized person.

Studebaker, Steven M. From Pentecost to the Triune God: A Pentecostal Trinitarian Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.

Christian Ethics | D. Stephen Long

The cover of Long's Christian EthicsChristian ethics, for some, is an oxymoron. “For some modern persons, the term ‘Christian’ conjures up images of past immoral activities: crusades, the Inquisition, the conquest of the Americas, religious wars, the Galileo affair, defences of slavery and patriarchy” (1). D. Stephen Long argues otherwise. In this very short introduction (135 small pages), Long covers the history of Christian ethics from its pre-Christian roots through two millennia and into the postmodern era.

Long understands Christian ethics in terms of Abraham’s call in Genesis 12. Abraham was called to be different from the world for the sake of the world. Christians are different from the world in that “the community of faith … seeks to embody the life to which God calls” (70). The second part—for the sake of the world—is the more controversial element which has led to all sorts of difficulty. Indeed, “[t]he failure to fulfil this mission was a central cause in Christ’s crucifixion” (70).

There are a number of black marks on Christianity’s ethical history. Still, Long’s brief historical survey demonstrates that the issues were not as black-and-white as some suspect. Indeed, it was mainly Christians who, against fellow Christians, recognized the injustices listed in the first paragraph and sought to change them.

Long completes his short introduction with an application of Christian ethics to some of the major issues of our day, categorized by money, sex, and power.

So what is Christian ethics? It is the pursuit of God’s goodness by people ‘on the way’ to a city not built by human hands. It is not a precise science but the cultivation of practical wisdom that comes from diverse sources. (121)

Christian ethics is a call to develop the sort of wisdom needed to navigate postmodern waters in a Christlike way.


Long, D. Stephen. Christian Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. London: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Jesus the Christ | Thomas G. Weinandy

The cover of Weinandy's Jesus the ChristAnalogies, when the subject is God, always fall short.

One of the most common analogies for the Trinity is H20. Just as H20 can be a solid (ice), liquid (water), or gas (steam), God is Father, Son and Spirit. The analogy seems like an apt way to throw light on the inconceivable theological arithmetic where 1+1+1=1 (another analogy)! Weinandy, having thought through the details of the H20 analogy, simply states that “[i]t perfectly illustrates Modalism” (60)! This example demonstrates Weinandy’s clear-sightedness when it comes to the Christology and Soteriology.

Jesus the Christ is a refreshingly straightforward look at who Jesus is and what he accomplished. Weinandy begins with scripture before tracing the thought of the church through the patristic and medieval eras, and into the present. His chronological method is particularly helpful in explaining the multitude of heresies that confronted the church in its formative years.

In approaching this book from a pentecostal perspective, I was struck by the way in which the Spirit preserved and revealed truth throughout the centuries. The Spirit inspired people like Ignatius, Origen, and Athanasius to write, using their limited amount of light, to bring about a more complete picture of the truth.

In a field of systematic theology notorious for its difficulty, Weinandy’s book is a breath of fresh air suitable for a new theological students or thoughtful laity.


Weinandy, Thomas G. Jesus the Christ. Middletown, DE: Ex Fontibus Company, 2017.

The Apostle Paul | Stanley E. Porter

The cover of Porter's The Apostle PaulMy first exposure to Paul’s life, thought, and letters came in my second year of Bible College when I was assigned F. F. Bruce’s magisterial Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free for a Pauline Literature class. One could view Stanley E. Porter’s Apostle Paul as a necessary update to Bruce’s work (xi). Porter begins with Paul’s background and reconstructs a chronology of his life and writing before analyzing the thirteen Pauline letters.

Porter is a specialist in the Greek language—a strength that shines through on almost every page. His knowledge of Greek allows him to situate Paul’s writing within broader Greek cultural norms, shining light on various details of Paul’s letters.

Particularly interesting was Porter’s section on pseudonymity. It is frequently argued that some of Paul’s letters are pseudonymous (written by someone other than Paul). Porter forces the reader to confront the implications of this view. First, it is fundamentally deceitful. The church from the start viewed the thirteen letters as Pauline which led to their canonical status. To believe that someone other than Paul wrote in the apostle’s name means the other person wrote deceptively. Second, there is the issue of double-pseudonymity. If you believe someone other than Paul wrote the letter, then the recipient is also in question, adding another layer of confusion. Porter repeatedly emphasizes textual evidence (or the lack thereof) over speculation and questionable hypotheses. The problem of pseudonymity, “combined with the evidence available, points to the Pauline letters being actually authentic” (168).

The New Perspective on Paul (led chiefly in various forms by Sanders, Dunn, and Wright) is another major area of debate in Pauline theology. Porter holds the traditional view against the New Perspective. For Porter, the New Perspective is not supported by Jewish evidence. Furthermore, the New Perspective misunderstands Paul’s use of language, especially the way that Paul understands “law.”

A major strength of this book is Porter’s balanced handling of the evidence for every Pauline question and debate. While he is never shy about stating his preferred option, the reader has unprejudiced evidence at hand to pursue a different reading.

I suspect The Apostle Paul will inspire a new generation of Pauline students to dig deep into the thirteen letters that bear his name.


Porter, Stanley E. The Apostle Paul: His Life, Thought, and Letters. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.

Pentecostalism | Walter J. Hollenweger

The cover of Hollenweger's PentecostalismWalter J. Hollenweger (1927-1916), an ordained minister with the Swiss Reformed Church, book-ended his academic career with large works on pentecostalism. His ten volume (!) doctoral dissertation, Handbuch der Pfingstbewegung, was condensed then translated into The Pentecostals—a highly readable and insightful book on the origins of the global Pentecostal movement.

Pentecostalism is more than an update to The Pentecostals. In his earlier work he privileged history over theology. Pentecostalism, on the other hand, is “a thoroughly theological book” (92) in which he traces the diverse roots of global pentecostalism. Hollwenweger identifies five theological roots which have fed the movement we see today:

  1. The Black Oral Root. While in the West today, “Pentecostalism is fast developing into an evangelical middle class religion” (19), things were different in the beginning. Hollenweger shows how pentecostalism is thriving in Africa, even if sects like the Kimbanguists of Zaïre make Western theologians nervous!
  2. The Catholic Root. Pentecostalism was heavily influenced by the Wesley brothers, who were in turn influenced by Roman Catholicism. Hollenweger traces the uneasy but definable influence of Roman Catholic theology on the pentecostal movement.
  3. The Evangelical Root. In this slim section, Hollenweger follows “the traces of Wesley’s doctrine of sanctification through the American Holiness movement” (181). His discussion of the relationship between pentecostalism, fundamentalism, and evangelicalism (ch. 15) is particularly insightful.
  4. The Critical Root. In this disproportionately large section of Pentecostalism, Hollenweger reviews the numerous critical issues which pentecostals are beginning to face. Fortunately, pentecostals can no longer be described as “anti-intellectual, evangelical-fundamentalist and anti-ecumenical” (van der Laan in Hollenweger 201)! Pentecostal scholarship has started to rigorously address broader theological issues such as liberation theology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and post-colonial missions. From my perspective studying at McMaster Divinity College, the two decades of pentecostal/charismatic scholarship that followed the publication of Pentecostalism have added immensely to all the areas which Hollenweger surveys.
  5. The Ecumenical Root. This is Hollenweger’s wheelhouse. In both of his books on pentecostalism he repeatedly laments pentecostal disengagement with the ecumenical movement. In Pentecostalism he is cautiously optimistic that pentecostals are now engaging with the universal body of Christ as expressed by the World Council of Churches.

In Pentecostalism, the “elder statesman of Penteecostal studies” (Cox), shows the astounding breadth of global pentecostalism. Though technically an outsider, Hollenweger handles the diverse issues of this massive movement with critical sensitivity. I only wish he had a chance to update his work one last time before his passing.


Hollenweger, Walter J. Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997.

Spirit Hermeneutics | Craig S. Keener

The cover of Keener's Spirit HermeneuticsEveryone has a hermeneutic lens through which they view the world—whether they realize it or not. For every academic who examines their hermeneutics with rigor (i.e. Gadamer, Thiessen), there’s that sweet soul in the congregation ‘claiming’ Jeremiah 29:11 for herself.

In Spirit Hermeneutics, charismatic New Testament scholar Craig Keener examines what a healthy pentecostal hermeneutic might entail. His conclusion is encouraging. The sceptical cessationism of twentieth-century Western christianity has given way to a hermeneutic that values God’s current active role in interpretation.

Keener thoughtfully covers a number of key topics. He emphasizes the role of global pentecostalism in reading scripture. Majority world views are just as valuable as Western views. He values careful exegesis (as his four volume commentary on Acts amply demonstrates), yet emphasizes boldly emphasizes the value of lay devotional reading.

For devotion and for church edification, . . . exegesis occurs within the believing community. Acts 15:28 does suggest the value of truly Spirit-led community understandings. (277)

When I ordered Spirit Hermeneutics, I expected to read a scholarly approach to pentecostal hermeneutics. What surprised me was the personal elements of this work. Keener adds autobiographical details which do more than illustrate his approach—they inspire the reader to challenge their presuppositions and to engage scripture afresh.


Keener, Craig S. Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.

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