[Book Review] A Practical Primer on Theological Method by Glenn Kreider and Michael Svigel

Kreider, Glenn R. and Michael J. Svigel. A Practical Primer on Theological Method: Table Manners for Discussing God, His Works, and His Ways. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2019. 177 pp. $9.99 [Kindle Edition]

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The authors propose an integrative approach to theological method. Precisely, they call it an integrative theological method in the classic Christian tradition (11). Glenn Kreider and Michael Svigel present this approach by grounding in Early Church tradition, Jewish Council in Acts 15, focusing on the centrality of God’s revelation and offering a dialogue with the fields of Biblical Hermeneutics, Dogmatics, Morality, Philosophy, Science, Arts, Practical Theology, and History. Indeed, each chapter is informative, profound, and coherent; it builds on and connects with each field.

Kreider and Svigel are seasoned theologians who studied—and still work—at Dallas Theological Seminary. The seminary is known for popularizing dispensationalism. Nevertheless, the authors have contributed numerous books, journal articles, published essays, and chapters with topics ranging from theological method, systematic and historical theology, popular culture, critical textual studies, and for Svigel, juvenile fantasy. Supposes, these wide-ranging fields have been a source of the gems found in this review.

The book’s preface and introduction set the background for the whole book. It was presented in a novel-like style with narration and describing the picture’s setting of what they want their readers to see and experience. The central concept is a metaphor of eight fields of study—personified—seated around the table for discussion. Dialogue is the key to theological method—which the authors defined as a discourse about God, His works, and His ways. The Table metaphor requires etiquettes on how the authors present their theological method.

Chapter 1 defines what primer is, theology, methodology, and what theological method is not. Kreider and Svigel define theology as a discussion about God—simply, a discourse concerning God (25). In this chapter, they clarify that theological method is not a formula nor a debate to win; it even goes beyond inductive Bible study. Theological method is hermeneutical, creative and logical, dialogical, transformational, and missional.

Chapters 2 and 3 focus on the centrality of divine revelation. Here, the authors propose that revelation’s image is like a braided cord with three strands. This three-cord revelation is Scripture (Word to the World), Christ and his Body, the church (Word in the World), and Creation (World of the Word). They refuse to use the familiar dichotomy of general (or common) revelation and special revelation. For them, it seems confusing and inadequate.

Further, all human thought, speech, and do, are second-tier sources for doing theology. Only God’s three-cord revelation is infallible and absolute truth; this only is the first-tier source for theology. Due to the finitude of humanity, as a result of the Fall, all interpretation, observation, or conception can err, hence secondary.

How do we do theology, then? If everything is fallible, nothing is trustworthy for theology. Kreider and Svigel answer this query by proposing their integrative theological method. The goal is to be closer—or closest—to the first-tier source. Harnessing from the three-cord strands of verbal and non-verbal revelations is the proper approach. All eight fields relate to divine revelation. Chapters 4 to 11 consist of the heart of this work. It explores and presents each role, relation, and essence of the eight fields: Interpreter, Theologian, Virtuous, Philosopher, Scientist, Artist, Minister, and Historian, which all have a seat at the Table.

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For brevity, this review offers only the highlights of each role. Among all the fields, the authors start with the Interpreter. The authors propose a Christocentric hermeneutic approach. Nevertheless, biblical interpretation is the theological method’s beginning—not the end (70). The field (or person) seated next to the Interpreter is the Theologian. Classic Christian tradition is necessary for doing theological method. Creeds, Confessions, and doctrinal statements surround the said Christocentric hermeneutic. The Trinitarian metanarrative of creation, fall, and redemption is also vital in this dialogue.

Virtuous plays as the conscience at the Table. Having the proper heart condition can be transformative in embracing God’s revelation. (p. 89). Virtuous is a close friend of everyone seated at the table, and she appeals to the idea that theology is doxological. The Philosopher, Scientist, and Artist are responsible for the logical structure of theology, offering a systematized worldview, rational, abstract, and creative. As they stated earlier in the book, they “expect structure without stricture, fluidity without futility” (35).

The last two seated at the Table are the Minister and Historian. The former caters to experiential knowledge that offers practical information for the other theoretical fields. The latter curates whose theology or doctrine is consistent throughout the timeline of Christianity. The historian also provides clarity and a better context for theology.

The authors’ concern is orthodoxy and orthopraxy in a community setting. The integrative approach is holistic, inclusive, and communal in essence. However, to some cognitive-prepositionalist, individualists, and the likes of Gregory of Nyssa, theology or deep discussion about God is not for everyone. Indeed, being mindful of God is necessary. However, contributing to the theological discussion with a shallow understanding and slow thought process can lead to heresy. Nevertheless, this integrative approach, personally, is what suits today’s cultural milieu. It is neither postmodern nor modern but communal and inclusive, which the authors contend is the classic Christian approach (i.e., the Jewish Council Acts 15 model).

In conclusion, Kreider and Svigel invite the reader to sit at the Table and participate in this dialogue. Nevertheless, everyone seems to have a place at the Table. It is only a matter of time and a proper awareness of which seat a person must contribute. Hence, read this book.

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Published by JP Arceno

A Mere Christian, no other religion, but Christian church, call me a Catholic Christian ~ Richard Baxter

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