Systematic Theology

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Anthony C. Thiselton
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
    , October
     467 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Amongst the many single-volume systematic theologies currently available, there are very few that are accessible enough to understand and conveniently compact for students and pastors to read without having to devote many hours to complete a chapter. Seasoned biblical-theological scholar Anthony Thiselton has done just that by composing and compacting his most mature theology into fifteen nearly-equal-length chapters, all with five subsections, spanning the classic theological topics from prolegomena to the last things. This volume is also unique in the sense that Thiselton takes an interdisciplinary approach to theology drawing upon philosophical hermeneutics and linguistic theory, especially speech-act theory. Coupled with his mastery of biblical languages and expertise in exegesis of the Bible, Thiselton weaves together a concise systematic theology that is not, however, arid dogmatics. He also punctuates each chapter with wise, practical advice for how each doctrine relates to and influences living the Christian life.

In chapter 1, Thiselton reveals his theological method by describing the relationship between biblical exegesis, philosophy, hermeneutics, and speech-act theory. Chapters 2 and 3 discuss theology proper, and the arguments for God’s relation to the world. Topics such as the being of God, the Trinity, and God’s attributes are expounded in chapter 2, whereas theodicy and arguments for the existence of God occupy chapter 3. Chapter 4 is wholly concerned with the challenge of atheism for the Christian faith, and we can only surmise that an entire chapter is devoted to this issue because of the rise of the “New Atheism,” especially in the United Kingdom. Chapters 5 and 6 deal with theological cosmology and anthropology. Topics ranging from angelology, animals, and socio-political realities (e.g., marriage, justice, the role of the state) to the human as created in the image of God, their constitution as body and soul, and humanity’s fall into sin are discussed while providing a segue into chapter 7, in which Thiselton provides an historical-hermeneutical survey of the doctrine of sin from the patristic era up to and including the modern era of the church. Chapters 8, 9, and 10 discuss the work and person of Jesus Christ, with Thiselton expounding the atonement by first defining biblical terminology (e.g., mediation, redemption, salvation), and then providing an overview of the perpetual debate over salvation as propitiation and/or expiation. Thiselton then surveys two millennia of atonement theories and evaluates their relative merits before turning to the person of Jesus Christ—including issues of the so-called “quest for the historical Jesus”—and the stark differences between ancient and modern christologies. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit occupies chapters 11 and 12 with Thiselton arguing for the biblical testimony of the Spirit, and then turning to the historical developments of pneumatology with a critical, yet appreciative evaluation of the Pentecostal movement. Chapter 13 looks at the doctrine of the church with all of its traditional topics: the nature and function of the church, clerical offices, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Chapters 14 and 15 discuss last things, with Thiselton first expounding on the issues of purgatory, the millennial reign of Christ, the return of Christ (i.e., Parousia), and the resurrection of the dead. Thiselton concludes the book by discussing the Last Judgment, the nature of eternal life, the new Jerusalem, and the new heavens and new earth.

With typical erudition and eloquence, Anthony Thiselton provides his readers with an accessible and academic theology text that is concerned with discussing the main points and issues with every doctrine he expounds. The fact that Thiselton is able to discuss so many doctrines in such a manageably sized book is commendable and makes this book a good candidate for a semester-long course in an undergraduate and/or graduate-level course in systematic theology. Further, I appreciate Thiselton’s interdisciplinary approach, especially how he relates current speech-act theory and philosophical hermeneutics to biblical exegesis. My final appreciation for this book lies in the fact that Thiselton provides many historical overviews of how a certain doctrine developed (and sometimes degenerated), and how he usually ends each chapter or subsection with a practical piece of advice as to how the doctrine under discussion applies to the Christian life.

Even though this is a very well written and argued systematic theology, there are a few shortcomings. First, Thiselton does not provide a chapter on the doctrine of scripture (bibliology); he provides very little discussion of the bible, and then only in the chapter on atheism. This is a doctrine that is vital not only to the Christian faith in general, but also to the Protestant tradition in particular, which Thiselton adheres to. Second, it is disappointing that Thiselton is so heavily dependent upon secondary sources for his arguments. These other sources, while helpful in distinguishing various theological viewpoints, crowd out Thiselton’s own arguments to the extent that they seem to be more mouthpieces than interlocutors.

These disappointments aside, this is a text that is not only affordable monetarily, but also in terms of time, as Thiselton covers what needs to be covered in a traditional systematic theology text without taking several volumes to do so. This book could also be effectively coupled with its companion volume: The Thiselton Companion to Theology (Eerdmans, 2015).

About the Reviewer(s): 

Bradley M. Penner is Adjunct Professor of Theology at Briercrest College and Seminary.

Date of Review: 
November 3, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Anthony C. Thiselton is professor emeritus of Christian theology at the University of Nottingham, England.


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