A Review of Bird’s “Evangelical Theology”

Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction Since I enjoy reading systematic theologies, I picked up Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013).  It is roughly the same size, shape, and format as other systematic theologies that Zondervan has recently published, such as Michael Horton’s Christian Faith and Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.  Bird’s systematic theology (ST) is 800+ pages and includes a Scripture index, a subject index, and an author index (all of which are quite comprehensive).

I appreciated this book because it was well written.  Bird writes clearly and concisely – in a detailed yet understandable manner.  There are a few charts and visible helps throughout the book, along with study questions and summary sentences at the end of each section.  The book is edited in a way that makes reading and reference easy.

I was also happy to see Bird interact with the church fathers and ancient creeds from time to time, along with some Jewish sources and some current theologians.  Bird didn’t attempt to proof-text every doctrine he explained, but he did constantly refer to Scripture and show biblical reasons and explanations for each point of theology.  Specifically, I appreciated Bird’s discussion of the Holy Trinity, his emphasis on the gospel, his explanation of infant baptism, and his emphasis on ecclesiology.  I also enjoyed his critique of biblicism.  These are a few strong points of the book.

One interesting aspect of this ST is that Bird organized it according to the gospel rather than according to the standard ST outline.  He says that since the gospel is at the center of Christianity and the Bible, it should be at the center of theology as well, so that’s where he starts.  Here’s the outline: 1) Prolegomena, 2) the Triune God, 3) The Kingdom, 4) Christology, 5) Soteriology, 6) Pneumatology, 7) Anthropology, 8) Ecclesiology.  It would take too much time to interact with this outline here, but I will say that though I’m not convinced this is the ideal outline, his emphasis on the gospel was laudable.

I do have notable concerns about several theological positions Bird advocates.  First, and most importantly, Bird departs from historic Reformed theology in the areas of covenant and justification.  Major red flags here: he rejects the covenant of works and disagrees with imputation in justification (he likes the term “incorporation” – i.e. union with Christ).  Second, Bird’s view of the atonement is Amyraldian rather than Calvinistic (Bird calls it a “lite” Calvinism).  Third, I disagree with Bird’s eschatology – he defends a preterist view of Matthew 24 and a historic pre-millennial view of eschatology.   There are a few other positions Bird takes that I disagree with, but these are the main ones.

In summary, although Evangelical Theology is not a historic/confessional Reformed ST , I do appreciate it – especially since Bird doesn’t claim that all his positions are Reformed.  I wouldn’t recommend this book for those who want a confessional Reformed theology reference, but I would recommend it if you are looking for a “conversation partner” in theology.  I’m glad I own Bird’s ST, and think it is a helpful contribution to theology, even though it has some serious weaknesses of which our readers should be aware.

shane lems
hammond, wi

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