A Call to Christian Formation
How Theology Makes Sense of Our World
- ISBN: 9781540960689
- Published By: Baker Academic
- Published: July 2021
In A Call to Christian Formation: How Theology Makes Sense of our World, authors John C. Clark and Marcus Peter Johnson seek to envision ministry leaders for the importance of the theological task. It is one’s theological beliefs which shape their perception of reality, the authors argue, and this assigns an essential role to theological formation in the life of the believer (4). For this reason, Clark and Johnson offer a counter-narrative to the common notion that theology is boring, non-practical, and ultimately non-essential for Christian life and ministry. Rather, they contend, theology should be seen as a kind of "liberating conformity" to the ultimate truth of the triune God, especially so in a post-truth age (4).
Following their joint treatise on the centrality of the incarnation for all of life (The Incarnation of God: The Mystery of the Gospel as the Foundation of Evangelical Theology, Crossway, 2015), Clark and Johnson have envisioned a more broadly catechetical work for their second book-length venture as a writing pair. In this, the authors build upon their previous work, showing that Christ should be seen as the fountainhead for theological inquiry (chapter 1). Succeeding chapters follow suit, as organized to reflect the “substance, contexts, and character of theological study” (17).
Theology, as Clark and Johnson claim, is Christian to the extent that it shares the mind of Christ (17). As such, it will necessarily shade into a trinitarian conception of God (chapter 2). God's "eternally generative" triunity is the essence of reality, which means that theology serves the joyful end of "being dazzled and romanced by the love of God the Holy Trinity" (76). This is a strong counter to pervasive theological indifference in the church based on theology’s reputation as a dry, ivory tower discipline. The remaining chapters bear out the trinitarian shape of theological commitments in the ecclesial and liturgical contexts (chapters 3 and 4) and then address the unavoidably paradoxical and eschatological nature of theology (chapters 5 and 6).
In the conclusion, titled "Six Theses on the Character of Christian Theology," the chapter theses are tweaked and re-summarized as a way to endorse the book’s content freshly and succinctly. In the end, the authors write, the goal of theology is none other than knowledge and love of God with all one's being (192).
The zoom out from incarnation (in their previous work) to theological catechesis in the present volume reflects an evangelical church in crisis. And while not a new phenomenon for evangelicalism, a poor witness in the present is certainly theological at its core and requires a theological solution. What the authors have sought to provide is an exhortation for the church to reinterpret its existence through the lens of its historic source material: God, in Christ, according to the Scriptures, as received by the ecclesia down through the centuries. This stands in contrast to the more pragmatic approaches to Christian ministry which can tend to skew the pastorate toward managerial models lacking the theological acumen needed for an effective counter-catechesis against secular orthodoxies.
With an ecumenical agenda and reference base, the book has potential for broad appeal across the spectrum of evangelicalism. However, the authors’ sanguine view of tradition and liturgy, as well as sacramental orientation, may put off those less inclined to a high church theology from engaging the material. This would be unfortunate, as arguably the strongest argument for the book's thesis is in the chapter on liturgy (chapter 4). Here, Clark and Johnson endeavor to show that even the so-called “nonreligious” and “nonliturgical” are inescapably “obsessed with religion and liturgy” (131). The only difference is that, for many, the obsession has a distinctly secular cast: ritual and sacrifice in the service of Black Friday and Super Bowl Sunday instead of for Good Friday and Easter Sunday, for example (131). Thus, the authors’ insistence that it is “naive” to think a secularizing society is necessarily nonreligious (130). For this reason, a distinctly theological lens is needed if the church is to catechize its members into trinitarian-shaped living.
While the ecclesial location of theology is convincingly argued (chapter 3), more could have been drawn out of the communal nature of the theological task. That is, theology (and this book on theology) should have its greatest effect when worked out in dialogue with others, whether in the classroom or in church discussions. As such, A Call to Christian Formation is ideally suited for intro-level systematics and spiritual formation courses, as well as for pastors and interested laypersons familiar with more substantive theological works at the popular level. In this vein, it may be seen as adjacent and complimentary to similar recent works by Beth Felker Jones (Practicing Christian Doctrine: An Introduction to Thinking and Living Theologically, Baker, 2014), and Kevin Vanhoozer (Hearers and Doers: A Pastor's Guide to Making Disciples Through Scripture and Doctrine, Lexham, 2019), among others.
Andy Tommelleo is a graduate student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.Andy TommelleoDate Of Review:March 31, 2022