Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Theology for Beginners: Four New and Recent Books

As a significant proportion of my work involves teaching theology in non-university settings and marking higher education essays at UK qualification levels four to six, I’m always on the lookout for helpful introductions to theology that may benefit students new to the discipline. Here are four I’ve come across in recent months.

Keith L. Johnson, Theology as Discipleship (London: IVP, 2016)

My relationship with theology is not quite love/hate, but I often wonder why I bother with it. I’m convinced about the subject’s worth in my own mind but dislike having to defend it before people who aren’t. Keith Johnson is well aware of this conundrum and so aims to explain why studying theology is an important aspect of Christian discipleship. Theology as Discipleship is not an introduction to theology as such but an outline of why we (should) do it.

Karin Spiecker Stetina, How to Read Theology for All Its Worth: A Guide for Students (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020)

How to Read Theology for All Its Worth stands ‘in the tradition of’ (says the book cover) How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Karin Stetina emphasises the need for theological study to be rooted in prayer and Scripture and aims to identify the skills necessary for people to become good theologians, especially anyone setting out on a formal course of theological study. Chapters address handling publishing details, identifying context, discerning theological frameworks, discovering sources, discerning the author’s views, and evaluating theology. Stetina includes six appendices and a glossary; among the appendices are outlines on how to lead and participate in theological discussions.

Graham McFarlane, A Model for Evangelical Theology: Integrating Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience, and Community (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020)

The model Graham McFarlane proposes is what he calls the ‘Evangelical Quintilateral’ (an extension of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral): Scripture, tradition, reason, experience – and community. McFarlane devotes a substantial chapter to each of these elements, and each chapter includes ‘pauses’ (asking questions) and closes with suggestions for further reading. Of the four books I’m featuring in this post, it’s McFarlane’s that would work best as a class textbook.

Geoff Thompson, Christian Doctrine: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T&T Clark, 2020)

Christian Doctrine is not an introduction to theology or to specific doctrines but rather an introduction to what doctrine is – and because the book explores the concept of doctrine in relation to Scripture, ideas about truth, other disciplines, and so on, undergraduates and postgraduates alike will find reading this book worthwhile. Geoff Thompson draws from a wide range of theologians: the usual suspects (e.g., Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Karl Barth) are here, but Thompson also includes, among others, Catherine of Siena, Sarah Coakley, Elizabeth A. Johnson, K. H.Ting, Wang Weifan, M. M. Thomas, Megan DeFranza, and Teresa Okure, making Christian Doctrine a model for how to write theology in our more globally aware age.


  1. Not "beginner" theology. But I got a free Amazon gift card at work, so I pre-ordered "Divine Agency and Divine Action, Volume IV: A Theological and Philosophical Agenda" by William J. "Billy" Abraham. The publication date is July 20, 2021.

    1. I can certainly think of worse books! I'm due to review it for Journal of Theological Studies once it's out - I'm looking forward to it!

    2. You'll probably get your copy sooner than I will!

    3. Mine has just popped through the letter box!

    4. Oh man, good for you!!!!! Is Billy Abraham still teaching at SMU on the dust cover?

    5. No - he's reported to be at Baylor!