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

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.

Introduction

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).

Organization

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.

Assessment

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!

References

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.

Stone and Duke Encourage Theological Reflection

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32. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webWonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,
Oh Lord, to be like you—strong and wise and patience and peace loving.
Oh, to be a convenant keeper, dependable and steady, a pillar against the wind.
Oh, to offer mercy and grace and patience and love and truth to all that come near.
Hospitality in the desert; peace amidst confusion; security when uncertainty tears at the soul.
Oh Lord, to be like you; to be like you.
Remember us, Lord, but forget the sin that
Depletes our strenghth, leaves us foolish, makes us impatient, and creates dissention.
Remember us, Lord, but forgive our trangressions that
Breaks our promises, leaves us unreliable—like leave blown before the wind.
Remember us, Lord, but wipe away our iniquity that
Leaves us judgmental and arrogant and at odds with all things good and true.
Remember us, Lord, lest we forget ourselves.
In the power of your Holy Spirit grant us a new day
and the strength to live it in a new way
following the example of your Son and our Savior,
Jesus Christ, Amen.

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Stott Outlines Gospel; Speaks Plainly

StottJohn Stott.  2008.  Basic Christianity (Orig pub 1958).  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Apostle Peter reminds us:  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1Peter 3:15 ESV).

Our ability to respond to Peter’s admonishment is clearly challenged today.  Outside of the criticism of our faith arising from the advocates for modern science, we are confronted in our shrinking postmodern world with a host of alternatives to Christianity from other religions and from complex and confusing voices in secular society.  In the midst of this whirlwind of controversy, John Stott’s book, Basic Christianity, offers us a plainspoken starting point.

Stott outlines the Gospel in eleven chapters.  After a brief introduction, he presents has four parts:  1. Who Christ Is, 2. What We Need, 3. What Christ Has Done, and 4. How To Respond.  The first part focuses on the claims, character, and resurrection of Christ.  The second part focuses on sin.  The third part focuses on Christ’s death and salvation.  The fourth part brings us to count the cost, make a decision, and live the Christian life.

John Stott (1921-2011) was rector (pastor) emeritus of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London and founder of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.  He was one of the authors of the Lausanne Covenant which started as a 1974 Christian religious manifesto promoting active world-wide Christian evangelism and continues to influence missions work today.  My first acquaintance with Stott came in 1983 when I visited Bonn in Germany as an economics student and a friend gifted me with Stott’s book—Gesandt Wie Christus (1976).  At the time, I assumed Stott was German.  Needless to say, Stott is still one of the world’s best known evangelical writers.

Stott acknowledges the enormity of the task of defending the faith–apologetics.  For example, he recounts a conversation with a young man having trouble reciting one of his church’s creeds because he could no longer believe it.  Stott asked him:  If I were to answer your problems to your complete intellectual satisfaction, would you be willing to change the way you live?  The answer was clearly no.  His real problem was not intellectual but moral (25).  This conversation is not an isolated event–advocating a disciplined life-style today is a tough sell. Why give up self-control to Christ and live a disciplined life when in Alice’s Wonderland every headache can be solved with a different colored pill?

Stott’s final chapter on being a Christian is most interesting.  He writes:  Our great privilege as children of God is relationship; our great responsibility is growth.  Everyone loves children, but nobody…wants them to stay in the nursery (162).  We grow in two dimensions—understanding and holiness—which work out in our duties to God, to the church, and to society (163-166).  This growth includes growth in our prayer life.  Stott advises readers to respond to God in prayer in the same manner that he speaks to you—do not change the subject.  If he talks about his glory, worship him; if he talks about sin, confess it; if scripture blesses you, thank him for it (164).  Stott’s comments about the spiritual practice of daily examine flow right out of this discussion.  In the morning, commit the details of your day to God’s blessing and, in evening, review what happened during the day.

John Stott’s Basic Christianity provides a well-ordered accounting of the Gospel that is worthy of study and reflection.  His summary—God has created; God has spoken; God has acted—is brief but compelling (18).  The Apostle Peter’s admonition sounds initially like evangelism.  But, if the truth be known, the accounting of our hope in Christ benefits us at least as much as anyone we meet.

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