Drowning in Theory: The Problem with Theology Books

It happened when I read Guder’s Missional Church. And it happened yesterday at page 110 of An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches. I had a theoretical theology burn out.

I almost sent the Emergent Theology book flying across the room. My battered copy of Missional Church knows a thing or two about that.

If author Ray Anderson uses the word “eschatological” one more time, I may even put the book up for sale online. I already did it to Missional Code (though for the opposite reason), and I can do it again.

Don’t get me wrong though, Anderson’s book on emergent theology has some great stuff. Some very true and relevant points about theology today. He skillfully recreates the tension between the established church in Jerusalem and the missionary church of Antioch and draws connections to the church today.

He aligns the emerging church with the freewheeling, mission-minded church of Antioch that is governed more by the Spirit than by tradition and religious custom. For example, regarding the conversion of Gentiles to Christianity without the Jewish trappings, Anderson says the following about Paul:

Paul didn’t argue his case based on his personal revelation experience but on the grounds of the manifestation of the Spirit of God through his missionary activity among the Gentiles. What constitutes “revelation” for Paul is not a private experience but an open, public and obvious work of the Holy Spirit as the continuing ministry of Christ” (27).

That is a very solid statement and it applies very well to today’s church.

The problem is that Anderson makes statements like this all throughout the book. The entire book is one theological truth stacked upon another; a series large trunks packed with theology that we are expected to lug with us in emergent ministry.

I sympathize with Anderson to a certain extent. He has ten tidy statements to make about emergent theology. It sounds simple enough. Nevertheless, there is no summing up or progression in the theme. One is left cramming all of the information that is all presented as important. Guder does the same in Missional Church.

So while Anderson has put together a book that is helpful perhaps as a reference guide, it is ultimately a difficult book to read and consequently to apply. It lacks the chatty tone of theologians such as Wright, Lewis, or even Hauerwas, and could really do with some illustrations and applications in today’s church.

Will I finish it? Not in one read. Should you buy it? Maybe. Not if you can borrow it from someone!