In Evangelical Theology, Michael Bird seeks to represent the theological voice of evangelicalism—“a global phenomenon that seeks to achieve renewal in Christian churches by bringing the church into conformity to the gospel and by promoting the gospel in the mission of the church” (p. 19). Theology, from an evangelical perspective, should revolve around the gospel, the bedrock for each doctrine and Christian practice. “The gospel provides a framework through which the various subjects of theology are explored” (p. 81). Bird draws a connection from each doctrine back to the gospel. He argues that the time is ripe for a new systematic theology that addresses the theological issues that confront the church in a postmodern, post-Christian, pluralistic world. The globalization of evangelicalism represents perhaps the most significant shift. The evangelical church in the East has expanded as the church in the West has been in steady decline. These changes call for an approach that addresses the issues and questions of the church.
For the most part Bird’s attempt is a helpful starting point, but the breadth of evangelical theology creates a problem for his work. Inevitably some groups who contribute to the worldwide evangelical voice will be marginalized. This happens in his treatment of dispensationalism. Bird criticizes dispensationalism’s distinction between Israel and the church, which leads to an understanding that “the salvation provided for Israel and the church is often differentiated in terms of its mode, form, and end state.” Since the “story of the church” continues the “story of Israel,” “you cannot have two peoples of God anymore than you can have two modes of salvation separated along the lines of political and spiritual” (p. 221).
After criticizing covenant theology for putting forward a covenant structure without exegetical warrant, Bird offers a modified covenant position. He argues for a unity between the biblical covenants. The Abrahamic Covenant specifies God’s promise; the Davidic Covenant specifies the person through whom the blessing comes; the New Covenant represents the eschatological realization of that promise for the Jewish people, but also Gentiles, through faith in Christ. The people of God are multiethnic, but united as one in Jesus Christ. Bird avoids supercessionism by arguing that the church is not a new Israel, but a “renewed Israel” and that the New Testament writers, Paul in particular, looked forward to a time when ethnic Israel will return to the Lord (pp. 725–27). Bird’s presentation takes into account the crux of the debate between covenant theology and dispensationalism—the amount of continuity and discontinuity between Israel and the church. He overstates the discontinuity found in most dispensational treatments. And his own conclusions would fit within recent dispensational discussions.
No reader will find themselves in full agreement with this type of work, but it has a number of strengths. Specifically, Bird’s attention to the biblical text makes this work stand out. As an established exegete, he gives detailed attention to the biblical texts of each doctrine. This commitment to the biblical text drives his decision to shift his discussion on eschatology to the front, reflecting the importance of eschatology to the biblical writers, and to include a section on the kingdom of God. Students may want to consult other systematic treatments, such as Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology or Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, for a broader discussion. The exegetical foundation that Evangelical Theology provides for systematic discussion places it in this wider conversation.
A number of other features will make this volume attractive for students. Bird’s writing style is entertaining. He includes several short articles that address particular theological issues, such as worshipping Mary, a literal Adam, and infant baptism. Even brief comedic sketches lighten serious discussions. Bird does an excellent job introducing readers to various theologians as well as the historical context of the discussion from the early church. Throughout he shows the relevance of each doctrine and so addresses the question that many students might ask—“Why study this?” Finally, each chapter ends with a helpful summary of its major points. All of this will engage students who are either new to theology or else nominally interested. In short, this is a helpful volume to consult, particularly in looking at the biblical foundation of particular theological issues.
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