HOW TO THINK THEOLOGICALLY by Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke
Methodist methodology combined with Lutheran theology results in a stimulating revision of a book which has served seminarians, pastors, and interested laity for over a decade. The authors (Methodist theology teachers at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University) have updated this very helpful and engagingly written tool for both lay and professional theologians by slightly revising chapters, updating some case studies, and adding a section “For Further Reading” in each chapter.
Asserting that “all Christians are theologians” (vi, 1-2), Stone and Duke lay out the basic structure and major premise of the book in their introduction. Asking theological questions is a key for any discipline as they encourage “listening and questioning” (viii) with theological reflection, which they describe as being “not only a personal, but also an interactive, dialogical, and community-related process” (4). In nine chapters, the authors model this approach in a winsome, yet substantive manner.
Stone and Duke begin chapter one by distinguishing embedded theology (the presupposed truths of our faith) from deliberative theology (deeper questioning for answers that address life’s issues more adequately and thoroughly) in order to encourage reflective theology (a self-conscious practice which provides growth and depth). In chapter two, they describe the “craft” of theological reflecting in three operations—interpretation, correlation, and assessment. An intriguing approach taken by Stone and Duke in chapter 3 is their use of what they call “the Methodist quadrilateral”(46)–scripture, tradition, reason, experience–as a template which “affords resources, insight, and an angle of vision” (45). Chapter 4 provides a rudimentary process for theological analysis and the construction of a simple foundation for doing theology by recognizing not only one’s starting point, but also the process by which one thinks.
Consciously writing for a Lutheran audience (or at least a Lutheran publisher), the authors demonstrate their methodology by addressing several key Lutheran themes—the Gospel (ch.5), the human condition (ch.6), and Christian vocation (ch.7). Each chapter has a diagnostic exercise with suggestions for theological analysis. Although the examples are helpful in allowing the reader to see practical applications of the methods suggested, the actual analysis is less than satisfying, particularly in the chapter on Gospel. For example, they speak of the New Testament’s references to law and gospel, but never recognize the great benefit of such a distinction in critiquing life theologically. Two final chapters (created by splitting the final chapter in the first edition) emphasize the communal nature of theology (drawing some ecclesiological issues into the fore) as well as the fact that deliberative theology forms us spiritually and prepares us for ethical decisions.
Helpful definitions of over five dozen terms are provided in a glossary (only three new terms—creeds, sanctification, and spirituality—were added). Brief notes from each chapter give some of the sources cited, although these are quite minimal for an academic book. The sections in each chapter on “For Further Reading” undoubtedly are seen as additional sources. A two-page index of key terms and persons mentioned in the book completes the content of this primer.
Knowing that this book was first prepared for seminary students, the understandability and accessibility of a comprehensively critical method for developing deeper theological discernment is beneficial for non-seminary readers. One caveat should be made about their approach: the biblical emphasis which so marks our LCMS way of doing theology is conspicuously weak, although certainly not absent. An example of this is in their discussion of the human condition (ch.8) where they assert that “it is up to theologians to decide which commands and prohibitions are of enduring validity and which should be left to pass with the changing times” (87), rather than affirming Scripture’s ultimate authority.
Encouraged by the gentle nudges of these experienced authors, readers (pastors or teachers) will see opportunities for their own growth as well as a way to engage congregation members and theological students in deeper theological discussions. An added asset to this edition is the fact that Fortress Press offers a free study guide for this book prepared by Rev. Ben G. Hubert of San Angelo, Texas, via the publisher’s web site. This book is worthy of continued use by pastors in their studies as well as by lay leaders who recognize the key importance of deeper study into the verities of the faith and who can add a strong scriptural foundation to this spiritually stimulating enterprise.
Concordia University Wisconsin