Book Review: Evangelical Theology by Michael F. Bird

EVMBHardcover: 912 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (October 30, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310494419
ISBN-13: 978-0310494416
Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 1.7 x 9.4 inches

A few years back, while residing in St. Louis, MO, when I heard that NT scholar and blogger Michael F. Bird was going to be lecturing at Covenant Theological Seminary, I had to make time to be there and meet him in person. I did.  I met the redhead Australian professor.  In our conversation, Mike revealed that his Evangelical Theology would be coming out later that Fall.  Sure enough it did.  I bought it, and after a few months with it, I read it in its entirety.  Below is my review.

Style and Overview

According to Mike Bird, the purpose of his work on Christian theology is “to produce a textbook for Christians that represents a biblically sound expression of the Christian faith from the vantage point of the evangelical tradition,” a tradition which he goes on to define.  Over the years I’ve read my share of Systematic Theologies, whether in college, seminary, pastorate, or personal enrichment.  While I’ve enjoyed their contents for the most part, they did not always flow well.  Some were simply dry and dull.  Not Mike Bird’s Evangelical Theology.  It flows.  It’s a lively.  Throughout are charts, diagrams, and other visuals.  Embedded in the text are further discussions pertinent to the subject matter.  At the end of each section is a summary in the form of What to take Home? and Study questions for individuals and groups.

The work is divided into eight parts around the evangel, the gospel.  It does not follow the usual order of other systematic theologies.  Mike provides a reason.  Of special note is the fact that Mike describes himself as an ex-Baptist post-Presbyterian Anglican.  He writes from a Reformed/Calvinist perspective.  However, according to Mike, “I am more than willing to part company with Calvin and the Reformers when I feel compelled to in the light of biblical evidence and Christian tradition.

Critique

For the most part, Mike’s work is a breath of fresh air, displaying a willingness to challenge and reframed traditionally held beliefs, even within his own Reformed tradition.   I find this especially true in Part 5, “The Gospel of Salvation,” where Mike convinced me of Christus Victor and so on.  Some readers would not be pleased with Mike’s generous and irenic spirit when it comes to such controversial subjects as biblical inerrancy and the historical Adam.  Parts 2, 4, 7, Trinity, Christology, and Pneumatology, respectively, are quite solid.  This is not to discount the other sections, but these I found to be more refreshing.

In Part 2, section 2.6, “God’s Purpose and Plan.”  While it appears promising, i.e., Mike’s willingness to depart from Reformed covenant theology’s “covenant of works” and covenant of grace,” it fell short.  It proved to be more about semantics, as one works through the larger work.  Neither was I convinced about his arguments for the historic premillennial position–simply a rehearsing of the same old unconvincing arguments.  I expected to be challenged here.  While there are bright spots in Part 8, “The Community of the Gospelized,” for the most part it was deja vu–I’ve been here before, especially when it came to church government and baptism.  However, his discussion on the Lord’s Supper stands out.

Conclusion

All in all, Evangelical Theology is a well-researched work.  Mike’s knowledge and interaction with the Church Fathers, the Reformers, and modern theologians throughout the work are quite impressive.  As a footnote, Mike Bird is not even 40 as yet.  So in the next 10 to 15 years, I would really like to see where he would be theologically in light of this work.  At any rate, I commend Evangelical Theology, a systematic theology from a New Testament scholar.

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16 Responses to Book Review: Evangelical Theology by Michael F. Bird

  1. theoldadam says:

    Just wondering, TC…what stood out for you about his beliefs on the Lord’s Supper?

  2. theoldadam says:

    I think those are great things and true aspects of the Lord’s Supper.

    Thanks, TC.

  3. Tony Jones says:

    I am enjoying this book. I guess you have amill leanings???

    • TC Robinson says:

      Yes, which seems to be the natural reading of the text, and doesn’t require a lot of hermeneutical gymnastics.

      • Tony says:

        In the book Dr Bird says that Craig Keener admits that he is theologically a-mill but exegetically pre-mill. I love Keener so that sparked my curiosity. I have just started engaging with both his and Fees Revelation commentary. I have Osbourne but haven’t looked at it yet. This is a topic that’s been on my mind as of late since I’m a credentialed minister/missionary with the AOG who historically is dispen pre-mill with a side of pre-trib rapture 😝 But there are reasons I stick with them (obedience, calling, friendships) Have you read Blombergs book on “historic pre-mill”?

  4. TC Robinson says:

    Hey Tony,

    Keener is a careful exegete. Check out my review of Fee’s Revelation commentary here. Osbourne is solid but not exact about the millennium.

    I haven’t read Blomberg on the historic premil position just yet. But Blomberg is always worth reading.

    Guess what! Fee is AOG and Amil. Go figure! I really like his take on Revelation and esp. the millennium.

  5. Jon Hughes says:

    Tony,

    I like Keener’s honesty, that he’s exegetically one thing but theologically another. For my part, if we are to read Scripture in a literal(istic) manner then it teaches premillennialism, but I’m not convinced we’re meant to read Scripture that way, especially the picture language of the Book of Revelation.

    TC,

    Amillennialism is a nice and neat but ultimately reductionist reading of Scripture, don’t you think?

    Could it not be that events leading up to – and the nature of – the Second Coming will be somewhat unexpected and take most of us by surprise, just like with the first coming of Christ? Hopefully, God’s ways are more wondrous than that which is conceived by humanly constructed theological systems.

    • TC Robinson says:

      Jon,
      I really don’t think it’s a reductionistic reading of Scripture. Far from it. Would you call an N.T. Wright a reductionist, who holds this position? Or even a Gordon Fee?

      I simply see no solid reason for a literal millennial reign. And what happens after the millennial reign makes for good Sci-fi TV or something like that.

      I’ll stick with the simplicity of the Amil position. 😉

      • Jon Hughes says:

        TC,

        Yes, I agree that N.T. Wright is not reductionist. Apart from anything else, his preterism is rich and full of insights that those futurists with an under-realized eschatology would do well to heed. I believe that Gordon Fee has a healthy preteristic emphasis too. Those Amillennialists who don’t usually end up fudging the Olivet Discourse, as well as the Book of Revelation. It’s the Amillennialist who wants everything to span out over the entire Church Age in a vague and indistinct way that I had in mind. He’s neither futuristic enough, nor preteristic enough, and therefore lacks sufficient attention to detail.

  6. TC Robinson says:

    Jon,
    One thing is clear: it is easy to fudge things. For me, it’s only natural that Wright would be a preterist. To be honest, I’m still tweaking my End Times beliefs.

  7. Tony Jones says:

    If you were teaching a systematic theology class would this be your primary book or would you use another?

    • TC Robinson says:

      Hey Tony,
      For classroom, here’s my list:

      1. Grudem (while I don’t agree with all his positions, his layout is still the best for classroom)
      2. Horton (He’s Reformed through and through and engages well with both the past and present)
      3. Erickson (Baptistic, still excellent)
      4. Bird (from a biblical scholar, not your normal systematic theologian. Begins with the gospel. It’s refreshing)
      5. Berkhof (simply a classic)
      6. Frame (a new theologian from a leading Reformed thinker, can be rudimentary in a few places).

      Hopes this helps.

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