An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Evangelical Theology by Michael F. Bird

Evangelical Theology
A Biblical and Systematic introduction
Michael F. Bird
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.
ISBN: 9780310494416
Hbk, 912pp, £28.99

Gordon Spykman in his superb Reformational Theology describes the eclipse of creation in theology. He writes that much of evangelical theology:
gives the impression of bypassing creation in a hasty move to take a shortcut to the cross.
Michael Bird in his evangelical theology doesn’t do that. This is refreshing in an evangelical systematic theology.

What is the single most important thing in evangelicalism? Bird maintains it is the gospel - so he has written a systematic theology that reflects that emphasis. What is the goal of theology? That we would be gospelised! But this raises the question what is the gospel? Is it the redemption of creation, the escape of Christians to heaven, or what? How does Bird view the gospel? He cites with approval Al Wolters who demonstrates that “creation regained” is an underlying theme of the gospel:
The gospel envisages a comprehensive restoration of the created order so that the relational disruption between God and creation caused by the intrusion of evil can be finally resolved. … The gospel is umbilically connected to the wider concepts of covenant and creation.
Such an approach alone would justify the purchase of this book.

Comparison with Grudem’s Systematic Theology is perhaps inevitable. For me Bird's is by far the superior book.

For Grudem the focus is on what does the Bible say, for Bird it is also the engagement with contemporary theological ideas. Though this is a strength of Bird’s approach it may prove to be its weakness as it may well date it.

A look at the contents shows marked differences: Bird starts with God, Grudem with the Bible. Grudem emphasises doctrine, Bird the gospel. In comparison Grudem is lame and pedestrian. This may be in part its age. Bird is a most welcome replacement for Grudem.

I have attempted to summarise some of the differences between Grudem and Bird in the table below.

Other than Spykman’s sadly out of print Reformational Theology I can think of no better summary of theology.

No of pages


Intended aim/  purpose
 Written primarily it for students …  “but also for every Christian who  has a hunger to know the central  doctrines of the Bible in greater  depth.”

To produce a textbook for Christians that represents a biblically sound expression of the Christian faith from the vantage point of the evangelical tradition. 
Intended audience
Students and all those who want 
to know the Bible
To be accessible to laypeople, seminary students and leaders in the evangelical churches

Author’s stated theological position
Holds to a “conservative view of biblical inerrancy, very much in agreement with the “Chicago Statement” of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy … and a traditional Reformed position with regard to questions of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility …, the extent of the atonement …, and the question of predestination.

Ex-Baptist post-Presbyterian Anglican.
Reformed, evangelical and Calvinist
Overview of Contents
Part 1 Doctrine of the Word of God
Part 2 Doctrine of God
Part 3 Doctrine of Man
Part 4 Doctrine of Christ and the Holy Spirit
Part 5 Doctrine of the application of redemption
Part 6 Doctrine of the church
Part 6 Doctrine of the future
 Part 1 Prolegoma: Beginning to talk    about God
 Part 2 The God of the gospel: the triune  God in being and action
 Part 3 The gospel of the kingdom: the  now and the not yet
 Part 4 The gospel of God’s Son: The  Lord Jesus Christ
 Part 5 The Gospel of salvation
 Part 6 The promise and power of the  Gospel: The Holy Spirit
 Part 7: The Gospel and humanity
 Part 8: The community of the gospelized



Scripture and Apocrypha
Definition of (Systematic) Theology
Uses the following definition of 
John Frame: “Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, “What does the whole Bible teach us today?” about any given topic.

The study of the living God.
“It is the attempt to say something about God and God’s relationship to the world. It is thinking about faith from faith. In a sense, theology is very much akin to the study of philosophy, worldview, religion, ethics, or intellectual history; it is a descriptive survey of ideas and the impact of those ideas.”

Position on charismata
“all the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament are still valid for today, but that “apostle” is an office, not a gift, 
and that office does not continue today.”

 not all of the gifts and offices have to  endure ... For instance, I think it likely  that the offices of prophet and apostle,  which were eschatological ministries to  provide the “foundation” for the church  (Eph 2:20), no longer persist because  the foundation has been laid, and the  apostolic office and prophetic voice is  largely subsumed into Christian    preaching, witness, and teaching.

Position on women
“neither traditional nor feminist, 
but ‘complementarian’— 
namely, that God created man and woman equal in value and personhood, 
and equal in bearing his image, 
but that both creation and redemption indicate some distinct roles for men and women in marriage .. and in the church.

  Not made explicit here. Elsewhere in     Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and         Bobby Haircuts he argues for almost an egalitarian position. 
Position on eschatology
Premillennial and post-tribulation.
“I would seriously like to be amillennial. It  is so much simpler. It recognizes the already’ and ‘not-yet’ of biblical eschatology and avoids the eccentricities of postmillennialism and dispensational premillennialism”… “I conclude that the  biblical eschatology is best described as historic premillennialism.”


Kevin Davis said...

Thanks for the overview. It's not hard to improve upon Grudem. The popularity of Grudem's ST is because he serves the apologetic-minded conservatives with all of the right answers (inerrancy, historicity, gender, etc.). That's what matters most for evangelicals, too many of them at least. Everyone else is blacklisted. Apologetics, not dogmatics, is what most evangelicals really care about -- defending the faith, not explicating the faith. As a result, theology is impoverished, lacking depth and catholicity.

As far as I can tell, if a professor is looking for a one-volume ST, the best option now is the abridged edition of Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics.

Steve Bishop said...

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for your comments. I'd agree with what you say about the (over) emphasis on apologetics.

Bavinck would be a good choice - though I'd go for the full set rather than the abridged! :)


Simon said...

HI Steve, Thanks for that - very interesting. By the way have you actually read Bavinck's unabridged ST? Its a bit of a read!


Simon said...


1. Also I think Spykmans work is in print.

Steve Bishop said...

Hi Simon,

I must confess that I haven't I'm saving up for the full set and hope to read that sometime!

Great news that Reformational Theology is still available. I have read that and it is brilliant!

Kevin Davis said...

Yes, the 4-volume set is definitely preferable but not likely for a seminary to assign. The one-volume edition is manageable for a two or three semester course in systematic theology, with the ability to assign supplemental readings (Augustine, Thomas, Calvin, Barth). That is basically how Berkhof's ST has been used. Berkhof, by the way, is also vastly superior to Grudem.

Simon said...

Hi Kevin / Steve,

Thanks for both your comments....

Thats interesting your comments on Grudem. For some reason his volume has become the "standard" systematic recommend amongst serious evangelicals.

Temped to read Spykman. Might still go for the abridged BAvinck as a starter.