Stone and Duke Encourage Theological Reflection

Stone and Duke, How to Think Theologically

Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke. 2006. How to Think Theologically. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra, Author of Simple Faith and other books available online.

Our anti-intellectual society has trouble seeing the God’s hand at work, in part, because such vision requires thinking about things outside ourselves. Since the romantic era of the nineteenth century, Americans have preferred to “experience” God emotionally rather than to “know” God intellectually.

This is truly disturbing outcome for anyone familiar with the Great Awakening experience of eighteenth century. Post-mortems by theologians, such as Jonathan Edwards (1746), clearly showed that religious experiences not followed by theological reflection are soon forgotten. Consider the increase in church attendance immediately after 9-11. Theology helps us reflect on our experiences of God in scripture and daily life.


Howard Stone and James Duke in their book, How to Think Theologically, respond to this question, writing:

“It is a simple fact of life for Christians; their faith makes them theologians.[1] Deliberately or not, think—and act—out of a theological understanding of existence, and their faith calls them to become the best theologians they can be.” (1)

This is not a throw away comment; when life loses its meaning, we die even if the body continues to process air and food. If we are to continue living we need to seek meaning in the many challenging experiences that life holds for us. The question is not whether we have a theological view of life—we all do—but rather whether the theology we live by is the one that we would chose if we took the time to think about it.

Faith Seeking Understanding

Like most good theologians, Stone and Duke cite the famous line from Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109 AD) who wrote: “I believe so that I may understand” (2008, 87) or as they cite it: “faith seeking understanding” (2). While this idea that faith precedes knowledge seems controversial until you realize that assumptions are faith statements and are required before any scientific inquiry can begin. Anselm’s apologetic laid the philosophical foundation for the modern era.

Theology Defined

Also like most good theologians, Stone and Duke define important terms. For example, they observe:

“Unfortunately, there is no universally accepted definition of the term theology. It comes to us as a compound word from ancient Greek: theo—logia are logia (sayings, accounts, teachings, theories) concerning theos (the divine, gods, and goddesses, God).” (7)

They also distinguish Christian orthodoxy “correct opinion or belief” from orthopraxy “correct practice” (7). It is often the case in some church circles that the accepted doctrine of the church is orthodox, but the church does not practice orthopraxy—a kind of hypocrisy that minimizes criticism and correction.

Embedded Theology

Stone and Duke make distinguish between embedded theology and deliberative theology. Embedded theology is defined as “Christians learn what is all about from countless daily encounters with their Christianity”. Deliberative theology is“the understanding of faith that emerges from a process of carefully reflecting upon embedded theological convictions” (13-16). Notice that neither embedded nor deliberative theology requires scholarly intervention. We engage in both types of theology on our own every day as we deepen our understanding of our own faith journey. But, as Stone and Duke observe, “theological reflection cannot flourish unless it is valued and practices by the church itself” (23).


Stone and Duke write in 9 chapters proceeded by 2 prefaces and an introduction and followed by a glossary, notes, and index. The 9 chapters are:

  1. Faith, Understanding, and Reflection,
  2. Fashioning Theology,
  3. Resources for Theological Reflection,
  4. Theological Method,
  5. The Gospel,
  6. The Human Condition,
  7. Vocation,
  8. Theological Reflection in Christian Community,
  9. Forming Spirit.

At the time of publication, Howard W. Stone was a professor emeritus of Department of Psychology and Pastoral Counseling at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University and the author of numerous books. James O Duke was also a professor of history of Christianity and historical theology at Brite.


Stone and Duke’s How to Think Theologically primes young seminarians for seminary. Assess to its wisdom goes much further and any dedicated reader will benefit from it.  If nothing else, consider the irony posed by the cover!


Anselm of Canterbury. 2008. The Major Works. New York: Oxford University Press.

Edwards, Jonathan. 2009. The Religious Affections (Orig pub. 1746). Vancouver: Eremitical Press.

[1] My best friend in high school, who is now a Lutheran pastor, used to moan that our faith forced us to become “little Kierkegaards” because our faith raises more questions than answers. Soren Kierkegard (1813-1855) was a well-known, nineteenth century theologian.

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Romans: Faith Seeking Understanding

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13 ESV).

How can one be blessed by something that is not fully understood?

As a teenager, I was passionate about my youth group.  When the youth director left the church, the group collapsed my senior year into a three-person study group—the pastor, my best friend, and I.  That entire year we got together on Wednesday for pizza, Bonhoeffer, and Romans. In college, when I became bitter at life, it was my understanding of God through Romans that brought me back.  Now, looking back at the experience from the other side of seminary, I wonder: how I could have been so blessed by a book that still defies my understanding?

This is not a new question.  Faith is not irrational; it is the beginning of rational discourse. Faith seeking understanding (fides quaerens intellectum)—is a motto attributed to Anselm (1033–1109; Archbishop of Canterbury) taken from his book, Proslogion, where he explored the existence and attributes of God [1].  The idea of faith preceding understanding is enshrined in scientific method, for example, because the method necessarily begins with a hypothesis (problem definition) [2].  Even the words in this sentence are unintelligible without assumptions as to their meaning.

My excursion into epistemology (the study of knowledge) is not out of place in a study of Romans.  Theologian James D.G. Dunn sees apologetics as one of Paul’s three objectives in Romans.  For example, Paul writes: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16 ESV). The other two objectives are a missionary objective [3] and a pastoral objective.  Dunn’s pastoral concern [4] is for unity between Jewish and Gentile Christians who made up the churches in Rome.  Paul is a disciplined writer who typically lays out objectives in his introduction and summarizes them at the end—in this case, Romans 15:7-13 [5].

Paul’s emphasis in Romans on the relationship among Jews and Gentiles sets up a kind of brother’s theme, as is often noted in the book of Genesis [6]. However, in Romans Paul uses tension between Jews and Gentiles as a stand in for a kind of false nurture/nature dichotomy [7].  The argument goes that with law we are nurtured from our natural state of sin—the traditional source of Jewish pride.  However, what might seem like an either—or argument is used by Paul as a neither—nor argument.  But for Paul, neither our natural abilities (Romans 1:18-32) nor the tutorage of law (Romans 7:5) are sufficient to earn us the grace of God.  Neither brother (Jew or Gentile) can claim the righteousness of God.

Here is where the example of Abraham becomes instrumental.  Abraham was not righteous in himself or by his actions.  Paul writes:  Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3 ESV).  Just like the prodigal son did not deserve his father’s forgiveness, neither do we deserve God’s forgiveness (Luke 15:11-23).  So just like Abraham:  since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; (Romans 5:1 ESV).

How can we be blessed by something that we do not understand?  We are sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ.


[2] The steps often employed in the method are:  felt need, problem definition, observation, analysis, decision, and responsibility bearing.  Stephen W. Hiemstra. June 2009. “Can Bad Culture Kill a Firm?” pages 51-54 of Risk Management.  Society of Actuaries.  Accessed:  18 February 2014. Online:

[3] Apostle—Romans 1:1; support for a missionary journey to Spain; Romans 15:24.

[4] Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7 ESV). James D.G. Dunn.  1993.  “Letter to the Romans” pages 838-50 of Dictionary of Paul and His Letters.  Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid.  Downers Grove:  InverVarsity Press.  Pages 839-40.

[6] Richard B. Hays.  1989.  Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul.  New Haven:  Yale University Press, 70-71.

[7] Genesis has lots of brothers, including—Cain/Abel, Isaac/Ishmael, Jacob/Esau, and Joseph/brothers—which drive the theme of.

[8] My thanks to Professor Rollin Grams of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary,Charlotte, NC for suggesting this argument in  ET/NT 543 New Testament and Christian Ethics, May 20-24, 2013.

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