Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals

The review that follows will be published, in an edited form, in the Churchman journal. I reproduce it here as I think this is a really important book!

Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals


Behind an accurate but uninviting title and a nice-but-uninspiring cover lie a superb book that should inspire and equip evangelicals to re-engage with our roots in the great traditions of the Church. Noting that in recent years a number of high-profile leaders in evangelicalism have left the movement for Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy, and also referencing the fall of a number of well known evangelical pastors, Ortlund suggests that engagement in theological retrieval would be timely for evangelicals.

This invitation will come as no surprise to evangelical Anglicans, and Ortlund acknowledges this with a warm quotation of John Jewel who “grounded Anglican (and more generally, Protestant) doctrine on points such as Scripture or the church in a litany of patristic sources” (p. 40). Ortlund ably suggests that, despite the possible risks involved, this is a worthy usage of our time. Not least in the benefits he outlines is that notion that theological retrieval may help us to break the deadlock on some of our interminable contemporary debates!

The second part of this book offers three case studies for how theological retrieval can benefit evangelicals. Firstly, a survey of divine simplicity, echoing recent interest in the area (For a good introduction see Sanlon, Simply God) and demonstrating what the church historic can teach us. Secondly, a superb chapter on the Atonement and the reconciliation of various models proves Ortlund’s point that “evangelical reflection on the atonement generally takes place in a more polarized context than classical, catholic Christian thought” (p. 141). The third and final case study considers Gregory the Great’s pastoral rule, wherein we are introduced to Gregory’s timeless encouragement toward “pastoral balance” (p. 195) and the homiletical reinforcement that “Gregory considered preaching to the highest duty of the bishop” (p. 197).

Overall, this is a book that would be well worth the pastor’s time to read. As well as providing a concise summary of the art and benefits of theological retrieval, it offers three helpful case studies that show it is of immense benefit to discipleship. This reviewer’s only comment would be that the book ends rather abruptly after the chapter on Gregory, and could have done with some form of epilogue or conclusion.

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