Archive | Theology

Formation and Reflection | Lewis S. Mudge & James N. Poling

The cover of Mudge & Poling's Formation and Reflection

How is academic theology related to actual, living communities of faith? (155)

This is the question which the essays in this volume attempt to answer. As academic theology, influenced by postmodern deconstruction, has moved away from talking about God to talking about the possibility of talking about God, the academy seems more and more removed from the actual life and practice of the local church. Practical theology could be the bridge to reunite the two. The question is how.

The essays in this book are challenging to read. Each contributor is a respected author in their own right, bringing their own conceptual frameworks and peculiar language to the conversation. The range is broad. The essays cover historical theology, theological pedagogy, postmodern philosophy, hermeneutical theory, and liberation theology.

An interesting feature of this book is its unity—the contributors were able to read each other’s essays and update their own before the final printing. The back-and-forth between the authors helps to situate their viewpoints.

Edward Farley’s lead contribution, “Interpreting Situations: An Inquiry into the Nature of Practical Theology,” is particularly helpful in focusing the volume. If theology is an interpretation of history (tradition and scripture), then practical theology must be an interpretation of the situation. Why is it that we have libraries worth of material on biblical hermeneutics and tradition criticism, but no rigorous framework to guide the interpretation of the present?

This collection of densely argued essays demonstrates how difficult practical theology is to define, let alone to do. However, if we want to reunite orthodoxy and orthopraxis, then the effort is more than worth the reward.


Mudge, Lewis S. and James N. Poling, eds., Formation and Reflection: The Promise of Practical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1987. Reprint, 2009.

Exclusion and Embrace | Miroslav Volf

The cover of Volf's Exclusion and EmbraceThen Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. (Luke 23:34 NRSV)

We all know that we should forgive each other. We even know how often—seventy times seven (i.e. unending forgiveness). The problem comes not with the knowing, but with the doing.

Miroslav Volf hit this crisis between knowing and doing after at the end of a lecture when Jürgen Moltmann stood and asked, “But can you embrace a cětnik” (9)? These Serbian fighters had been terrorizing and destroying Croatia, Volf’s country. He was torn between “the blood of the innocent crying out to God and by the blood of God’s Lamb offered for the guilty” (9). This question drove him to research and write Exclusion and Embrace.

Exclusion and Embrace is the best book on forgiveness that exists. Period. Volf used the image of the crucified God, arms outstretched with side pierced, to show how those who are offended can make space within themselves to embrace the other. This does not mean that the embraced are exonerated—they can be embraced “even when they are perceived as wrongdoers” (85). This, of course, is precisely how Jesus receives us.

Although written in 1996, this book feels tailored for today. In our culture of “truthiness,” Volf writes of “Deception and Truth.” As geopolitical tensions flair, Volf writes of “Oppression and Justice,” “Violence and Peace.” Even gender identity receives a chapter. It is stunning to see just how broad the theme of forgiveness reaches.

Every paragraph of Exclusion and Embrace is rich. Volf’s writing is a dense and insightful mixture of philosophical acuity, psychological wisdom, and theological insight. Our world needs this book more now than ever.


Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996.

The Prophetic Faith | Martin Buber

The cover of Buber's The Prophetic FaithBuber is best known for his philosophical gem, I and Thou. He was also an biblical interpreter who translated the entire Hebrew Bible into German. Although published before his translation work began, The Prophetic Faith demonstrates his broad and deep knowledge of the scriptures.

The Prophetic Faith begins with the Song of Deborah before moving backwards through Joshua’s covenant renewal ceremony to Sinai. Buber pays close attention to God’s name and the way at which YHVH and Israel became linked as expressed in the phrase, “YHVH God of Israel” (19).

From this point of origin, Buber traces the prophetic faith through the major movements of Israel’s life: the Assyrian threat, the Babylonian exile, and the return. Buber paints the prophetic faith as vivid and always engaged with the eternal Thou.

We are fortunate that Princeton University Press has just reissued this work. The Prophetic Faith is an inspiring look at the heart of Israel’s relationship with their God.


Buber, Martin. The Prophetic Faith. Translated by Jon D. Levenson. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.

The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke | Roger Stronstad

The cover of Stronstad's The Charismatic Theology of St. LukeIt is easy to forget that what we call the Bible (singular) is actually a library of many books and letters from many Spirit-inspired authors each with their own story and message. In The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke, Stronstad takes Luke’s book, the historical narrative we know as Luke and Acts, on its own merits.

When you take Luke at his word instead of subjugating him to Paul, certain themes in Luke-Acts become crystal clear. You begin to hear the echoes of the LXX in Luke’s text. You are able to see Jesus as the Spirit-filled prophet who transfers his Spirit to his community. You are able to see the the empowering vocational purpose of Spirit-Baptism.

Pentecostals often speak of Luke-Acts as a “canon within the canon.” I find that sort of language unhelpful in that it depreciates the rest of the biblical witness. I do, however, applaud any effort to allow the Biblical witness to speak in its full diversity.


Stronstad, Roger. The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke: Trajectories from the Old Testament to Luke-Acts. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: BakerAcademic, 1984, 2012.

The Prophethood of All Believers | Roger Stronstad

The cover of Stronstad's The Prophethood of All BelieversThe genre and theology of Luke-Acts is fundamentally different from the other three gospels. Luke-Acts is “the only self-consciously written, self-designated historical narrative in the New Testament” (4). As such, it must be read on its own terms.

In The Prophethood of All Believers, Stronstad focuses in on the unique viewpoint of Luke-Acts. He demonstrates that Luke uses a host of literary devices to point to the fact that the entire eschatological Christian community is made up of prophets. Prophethood for Stronstad is not limited to Spirit-inspired speech, but goes beyond to word and deed. Just as Jesus was anointed as a prophet, powerful in word and deed, the disciples are anointed by the same Spirit to do and witness to what Jesus did.

One of Stronstad’s fundamental views is that Spirit-baptism in Luke-Acts is not salvific, but empowering. This is a long-standing Pentecostal/Charismatic distinction that comes into clarity when Luke-Acts is taken on its own terms.

The majority of Stronstad’s slim volume is taken up with a close exegesis of Luke-Acts. The most inspiring (and controversial) part comes in the last three pages where Strongstad offers a brief contemporary reflection. He lambastes the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement for usurping mission with personal experience:

This shift in focus from vocation to personal experince, from being world-centered to self-centered, renders the service of the Pentecostal, charismatic movement just about as impotent as the service of the contemporary non-Pentecostal, non-charismatic church. This focus on experience rather than on service is like selling one’s birthright of Spirit-empowered service for the pottage of self-seeking experience and blessing. (121)

Stronstad closes with the desire that the entire church, Pentecostal/Charismatic and beyond, would recapture the world-changing doctrine of the prophethood of all believers.


Stronstad, Roger The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology. Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2010.

The Acts of the Apostles | James D. G. Dunn

The cover of Dunn's The Acts of the ApostlesActs begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome. It starts with the Jewish people and ends up reaching the heart of the Gentile empire.

In this commentary, Dunn reads the text closely and provides a number of insights to help the reader understand how each story works in the broader context of Acts. He demonstrates that Christianity stands in unity with the Jewish faith while at the same time reaches beyond it in embracing the radical message of the Messiah in the power of the Spirit.

This commentary hits the sweet spot. It is non-technical and easy to read while at the same time deep and thoughtful. Dunn gives plenty of enough substance that will enrich your own understanding of scripture and give fuel to the teachers.


Dunn, James D. G. The Acts of the Apostles. Narrative Commentaries. Valley Forge, PN: Trinity Press, 1996.

Models of Contextual Theology | Stephen B. Bevans

The cover of Bevans' Models of Contextual TheologyAll theology is culturally conditioned. In scripture we see Israel trying to make sense of God while exiled in Babylon. You can also consider Paul who brought a peculiarly Jewish message to the nations.

The need to carefully think through our contextualization of the gospel is more important now than ever given the globalization of our world. We cannot effectively communicate the gospel in other cultures unless we can derobe the gospel of its North American clothes and re-clothe it in the host culture.

Bevans offers five models to understand the way we do this:

  1. Translation Model: This is the most conservative of the models. The goal is to use the images and metaphors of the host culture to explain the gospel. Essentially, we translate theology using the functional or dynamic equivalence method.
  2. Anthropological Model: This is the most radical of the models. While in the translation model the highest emphasis was placed on gospel and tradition, in the anthropological model the highest value is on seeing and explaining how God is at work within the other culture.
  3. Praxis Model: This model places the highest value on social change. This is essentially the model of liberation theology.
  4. Synthetic Model: This model attempts to take the middle road, using the strengths of each of the preceding models.
  5. Transcendental Model: This model is based on existential philosophy. The goal is the transformation of the subject doing the theology rather than the theology or culture.

These models are not mutually exclusive, nor is one better than another. The models help us to think through how we communicate the gospel in diverse contexts.


Bevans, Stephen B. Models of Contextual Theology. Faith and Culture Series: An Orbis Series on Contextualizing Gospel and Church. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1992.

Practice-led Theology or Thinking Theology Through Practice | Neil Ferguson

The cover of Ferguson's Practice-led TheologyImagine an old-fashioned scale with trays on both sides. On one side stacked with books and theories. The other side is filled with the experiences of our lives. The scale weighs head knowledge against heart knowledge or thinking against doing. The university has traditionally tipped the scale on the side of theory while practitioners around the world claim that they discover real knowledge on the experiential side.

For the Christian, this scale can be viewed through James’ words on faith and works—they need one another. The true Christian cannot live solely in her head nor in her heart. We are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Practice-led research is a way to balance the scale. Practice-led research affirms that there is legitimate knowledge to be found in and through experience, but that experience needs to be critically reflected upon.

In his PhD dissertation, Neil Ferguson gathers the disparate threads of practice-led research and develops a definition that is neither too narrow (it has application beyond the art and design world where practice-led research was born) nor too broad to be of any practical use. He then illustrates his definition with numerous potential practice-led projects in the field of theology.

Ferguson’s dissertation brings clarity to a muddy field and provides a practical way to do practice-led research in any field, including theology.


Ferguson, Neil. “Practice-Led Theology or Thinking Theology Through Practice.” PhD diss., University of Notre Dame, Australia, 2014.

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