[Book Review] Method of Christian Theology by Rhyne Putman

Putman, Rhyne R. The Method of Christian Theology: A Basic Introduction. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2021. 336 pp. $17.79

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Theological Methodology is a significant subject for seminary, Bible school students, and even pastoral ministry. The work of Rhyne Putman supports this statement. His The Method of Christian Theology[1] aims to provide a primer for theology students and preachers. Consequently, Putman seems to think about the church lay leaders or even a small group leader in his mind when he writes this work. It has a pastoral tone emphasizing Christian discipleship as the goal of doing theology.

Rhyne Putman is an academic staff at Williams Baptist University and an associate professor at New Orleans Baptist University. His research interests are doctrinal development, philosophy of religion, dogmatics, and hermeneutics. Thus, the inclusion of the definition and nature of doctrine in Chapter 2. Putman mainly has a theological discourse with George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine as part of the principles of theology.

In this work, Putman makes four-part divisions: principles, preparations, procedures, and practices. Chapters 1 to 4 consist of the principles of theology. It includes the definition of theology, its task, the nature of doctrine, worldview, and different theological disciplines. For Putman, the goal is Christian discipleship—the formation of Christlike character. The distinction and overlapping subjects of various theological disciplines in Chapter 4 are helpful for those who are confused with all the complexities in it.

In the first part of Chapter 2, Putman explains “theology as the process of critically reflecting on God’s self-revelation in Scripture and doctrine as the product or fruit of that study.” He further discussed Lindbeck’s perspective and then offered his view. He then says, “Christian doctrines are faithful and true teachings derived from Scripture and used to grow God’s people in knowledge, spiritual maturity, and obedience.” Lastly, Putman proposes the life-long purpose of theology and doctrine in Christian discipleship through understanding worldview as a grand narrative, truth, practices, and affections.

The second part is the preparations of the Christian thinker or theologian. This preparation focuses on two faculties of a person, the mind and heart. Two extreme pitfalls are inevitable if these are ignored. First, anti-intellectualism and vainglory; second, risks to fleshly temptations and divisiveness. These pitfalls are prevented through proper preparation of the mind and heart—an assent to God’s Word and an ascent to the Being of God. In this section, Putman further discusses the Christian faith seeking understanding, being Spirit-filled, and embodying biblical virtues.

For the third part, Putman engages with the resources of Christian theology. He calls it the procedures for theology. First and foremost, he presents the special revelation, Christ the living Word, and the Bible as the written God’s Word. The Bible is the only authoritative rule—sufficient and inerrant—for Christian faith and practices. However, tradition, philosophy, and experience are also part of God’s general revelation or common grace, which can be resources for theologizing. Hence, the importance of cogency and coherency in Systematic Theology is pointed out in this part. However, unlike the special revelation, these are non-salvific and non-authoritative. These can inform theology but not overrule scriptural revelation.

Before leading to the fourth part, Putman ended his procedures of theology by giving twelve steps for theological study ranging from prayer and meditation to doxology and contextualization. From this subject where the fourth part begins. He calls the fourth part the practices or “delivering the products of Christian theology.”

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Chapter 12 is vital in this theological practice, contextualization. Putman discusses the two common approaches—which seem dangerous—of contextualization: transplanter and transformer. The former uproots biblical contexts and directly applies to contemporary cultures. The latter transforms the biblical meaning to conform to the contemporary context. Since both are inadvisable by Putman, he proposes another approach as translators. Faithfully translating the biblical meaning and faithfully translating for the contemporary hearers. The last two chapters are dedicated to seminary students for effective research writing and preachers for faithful proclamation of doctrinal sermons.

Nevertheless, the balance of academic and ministerial approaches makes it easier for any person who reads Putman’s theological method. The scholarship is present but transformed into a comprehensible version without reducing its integrity. Putman’s wide-range use of modern theological scholars, patristics, Reformers, and interdisciplinary fields is commendable. He opens his Christian theological method in the broader Evangelical group and other faith communities. It may sound syncretistic, but Putman could contend where he stands—others would call him an open but cautious theologian.

Due to Putman’s wide-ranging purpose and user-friendly approach, this work is recommendable as a start-up to any theological methodology. Unlike Michael Svigel and Glenn Kreider’s A Practical Primer on Theological Method, which has a straightforward goal and path—an integrative model, Putman’s theological method book is more general and foundational in essence. It has glimpses of everything needed to know for a theological student or pastor-in-training. His holistic approach from theoretical to practical implications makes this work a portable, quick guide or easy-access theological knowledge—a must-have for professors teaching undergraduate and graduate classes.

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[1] The version used for this review is from Perlego, a digital application similar to Kindle. Hence, it is complex to cite accurate pages. The review followed Putman’s four-part divisions.

Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

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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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