Book Review: A Theology in Outline

If Francis Spufford’s controversial and hilarious Unapologetic is a book to give those friends of mine who are intelligently skeptical about the Christian faith, then Jenson’s little book is perfect for those Christians who remain (unfortunately) intelligently skeptical about the practice and pursuit of theology.
In the four years I’ve been privileged to study theology full time, and in the intervening years in which I’ve been lucky to work in environments (Trent Vineyard, London School of Theology, SPCK/IVP) that encouraged me to keep it ticking over, I’m often asked why theology is important, what it’s done to my faith, and what place it has in a church on a mission. The beautiful urgency of the theologians task, rooted in scripture and attentive to church history, is involved in explaining and enjoying the Gospel.
This little book does just that. Here, Robert Jenson, a wonderful American Lutheran and ecumenical theologian who recently went to glory outlines his theology. This is almost a stream of consciousness – transcribed, edited and introduced as it is by Adam Eitel from lectures given by Jenson. It is difficult to review a book like this – this is a distillation, the fruit of a long career, attempting to explain relatively briefly what theology is, can be, and says.
I would warmly recommend this book two three different groups of people:
1) Theology students, or those preparing to study theology. Particularly if you are nervous, struggling or feeling browbeaten. Whilst I personally don’t agree with Jenson on everything, in this book you cannot help but be enthused and infused with the joy of the Gospel, and the powerful tool that theology is and can be. This book would make a great preparatory reading for someone about to begin a course of theological study – as it gives a gentle and inspiring overview of many key topics, without assuming too much knowledge.
2) Christians who like to read/think but don’t like theology. Whilst I’d hope this might be an oxymoron, this remains a way of life for many people. This book could, without too many long words, hopefully infect folk like this with an appreciation for the theologians task. Despite being published by Oxford University Press, this is a short, readable and quite ‘cute’ little physical book, that is aimed as an introduction but has brilliant depth throughout it.
3) Pastors who struggle with theology beyond sermon preparation.loved this book – but then I’ve studied theology, don’t do ministry full time, and rarely preach. However, when I shared some of the nuggets from this book with folk who do preach regularly, they loved it. Non-theological church leaders who I know and love, loved hearing some of the things that Jenson says about the Gospel. This is a book that is reasonably easy to read, reasonably short, and could serve as a catalyst for renewal in the intellectual and spiritual life of church leaders.
Hopefully my enthusiasm for this book is clear. It is a unique kind of book – by a serious academic theologian but in a style anyone can enjoy. The fruit of a lifetime of learning and praying – but without references, without assuming prior knowledge, and overall an introduction that actually introduces you to a topic in a way you would want to continue with. Jenson’s A Theology in Outline is a brilliant little book, and one I’ll probably come back to and keep recommending in the future.

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