One of the biggest frustrations that I had when I studied Theology back in the late 80s and early 1990s, was finding material for preparing essays on Doctrine and Theology. There were a number of books and systematic theologies around but nothing that I found really hit the mark consistently. The three volumes by AA Hoekema were usually the most helpful at that time. What I was really looking for was yet to come in the form of the books by Alister McGrath – Christian Theology and The Christian Theology Reader.
But I do envy the students of today who have the delight of reading Michael Bird’s ‘Evangelical Theology – A Biblical and Systematic Introduction’. I picked up the second edition of this 1000 page tome a few years ago and have found it absolutely brilliant. Bird is an Australian who teaches at Ridley College in Melbourne. His ability to synthesize arguments and communicate them clearly is astonishing. What also surprised me was the way he has slotted in humour along the way to get his point across. It’s always risky to do this, but it certainly helps the reader go with the flow. The risk, of course, is that you end up dismissing someone else’s viewpoint – treating lightly something which others are taking very seriously.
Personally, I think that it is worth the risk and that Bird seems to have managed it well. Here’s a couple of examples of his turn of phrase.
He comments upon some of the speculative interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27 and the attempt to place the narrative within a reading of modern times thus: these “are about as convincing as a hippo wearing a monocle and trying to get into a kangaroos-only country club.” (p 321).
And then there is this classic found in the very testy subject (especially in the United States) of the Millenium where Bird comments:
“I would seriously like to be amillenial. It is so much simpler. It recognizes the ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ of biblical eschatology, and it avoids the eccentricities of postmillennialism and dispensational premillennialism. Christ’s parousia, general resurrection, and final judgment are united in a chronological proximity and narrative coherence. Jesus comes back and it is game-set-match, thank you ball boys and ball girls, chick chick boom, Elvis has left the building, the fat lady is singing up a storm, and tha-tha-tha-that’s all folks! My point of contention is with its reading of Revelation 20.” (p 338).
Well, that’s certainly one way of drawing attention to Revelation 20!
But, even if one were put off, or even offended, by the humour, this is one superb theology textbook. I don’t necessarily agree with all his conclusions but this volume really does capture what I was searching for 30 years ago: ‘a biblically sound expression of the Christian faith from the vantage point of the evangelical tradition’ (p xxv).
Thanks Michael…you have done us all a great service. And I for one will always be wary of any hippo I see wearing a monocle.