This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2007 vol. 164 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical TheologyBaker Academic, Grand Rapids June 1, 2002
Evangelicalism is rife with heated discussion of issues both major and minor. What could be more helpful to the beginning student of theology than a book that surveys the various positions held by evangelicals on many of these issues? This is apparently the question that drove Boyd and Eddy, both professors of theology at Bethel University at the time of writing, to create this volume. Drawing on their experience in teaching theology at the undergraduate level, they tackle eighteen issues in the evangelical world. (An appendix briefly addresses an additional twelve issues.) The authors’ explicit goal is “to broaden students’ minds by helping them empathetically understand a variety of perspectives while training them to think critically for themselves” (p. 6).
The eighteen issues addressed in the book are inspiration, providence, foreknowledge, creationism, the imago dei, human constitution, Christology, the Atonement, salvation in Calvinism versus Arminianism, the nature of sanctification, eternal security, the destiny of the unevangelized, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, charismatic gifts, women in ministry, millennialism, and the nature of hell.
Each issue is introduced by a brief section that highlights the significance of the issue with its real-life implications. This introduction is followed by an articulation of evangelical common ground, highlighting areas where evangelicals typically agree over against nonevangelical views, along with a brief description of the various views within evangelicalism. Then each of the evangelical views on the topic is presented in debate-style format, with a positive presentation of each view’s support from Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. The presentation of each evangelical view also features a rebuttal of common objections raised against it.
Across the Spectrum succeeds with distinction in at least two respects. First, it represents a very useful tool for those who wish to begin grappling with different approaches to difficult theological problems. The book will be most helpful to beginning students in evangelical theology, the target audience. Second, the work presents various perspectives in fair and unbiased tones. The authors’ theological perspectives are well hidden, although one might detect a hint of Boyd’s open theism in the chapter on “the foreknowledge debate,” as well as a hint of his views in the chapter on “the hell debate.” One of the great strengths of the book is the evenhanded approach in presenting various perspectives.
These strengths, however, bring the reader face to face with the salient weakness of the work. Many of the most useful tools are dangerous if misused, and this survey of theological perspectives is no exception. The authors have described the boundaries of evangelicalism in their choice of views presented on each issue, and many within the evangelical world may think that Boyd and Eddy’s choices constitute gerrymandering. To be fair to the authors, they admit this difficulty in the introduction and admit that their choices are not infallible. This is a candid and much appreciated admission, but it does not change the fact that the target audience (“students with no prior background in theology,” p. 7) will come away from this book with a tacit understanding that certain views are well within the evangelical pale, when this very placement is disputed.
A few examples demonstrate this weakness. Open theism is presented as a valid evangelical alternative to classical theism in the chapter on foreknowledge, while recent debates would suggest that many evangelicals consider open theism a nonevangelical view. Similarly many evangelicals consider proposals of annihilationism, presented in the chapter on hell, to be an aberrant view. Also in many readers’ perspectives the view that some people are saved apart from a knowledge of Jesus Christ falls outside evangelicalism.
In the final analysis this well-written book is a helpful tool. If used with care, it will repeatedly reward the reader with its fair and even treatment of different theological views.
—Nathan D. Holsteen