A Little Book for New Theologians by Kelly Kapic of @CovenantCollege (@IVPress & @MaloneCTM)

The following is a tag-team approach to Kelly Kapic’s new book, thanks to our friends at www.MaloneCTM.com.

Whenever we think or hear or read or say anything about God, we are doing theology. In the tradition of Helmut Thielicke’s A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, Kelly Kapic offers a concise introduction to the study of theology. He highlights its value and importance while explaining its unique nature as a serious discipline.

Not only concerned with content and method, Kapic explores the skills, attitudes and spiritual practices needed by those who take up the discipline. This brief, clear and vibrant primer draws out the relevance of theology for Christian life, worship, mission, witness and more. As Kapic says, “Theology is about life. It is not a conversation our souls can afford to avoid.”

Publication Information: A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology. By Kelly M. Kapic. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2012. 126 pages. ISBN 978-0-8308-3975-9. $8.00.

Endorsements:

“To study with Kelly Kapic must be serious fun. His joy in teaching theology is infectious.” Sinclair B. Ferguson, Professor of Systematic Theology, Redeemer Seminary

“This is a great primer both for new students of theology and for those well practiced in the discipline.” Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Divinity School

“Deceitfully easy and highly accessible, this guide is based on the best of theological wisdom and tested classroom experience.” Veli-Matti Kärkkäïnen, Fuller Theological Seminary

“Kelly Kapic concisely states major characteristics of faithful theologians in this little book…. This is a very good beginning.” Thomas C. Oden, Professor of Theology, Drew University

Learn more at Amazon.comIVP or ChristianBook.com.

Full Book Summary & Review by Dr. Scott Wright, Pastor of Redeemer Church (PCA) in Hudson, Ohio.

Summary:  With this excellent little book Dr. Kapic helps his readers avoid the strong dichotomies of what he calls theological detachment, “a view which produces a divide between spirituality and theology, between life and thought, between faith and agency.”  The opening three chapters comprising the first of two parts seek to answer the question, “Why study Theology?”  In his response Dr. Kapic asserts that our notions about God powerfully influence our identity, affect our lives and give shape to our worship.  Eighteen years of pastoral ministry in a Presbyterian church have confirmed for me the importance and challenge of this truth.  The challenge comes, as Dr. Kapic notes, from indwelling sin and the human penchant for self-absorption.  This makes forging good theology difficult.  The importance lies in its power to affect our faith.  Insofar as our theology is unsound, our enjoyment of God will be diminished, for we all were created to “reflect his glory and bask in his love.”  Hence we must learn the song of God’s redemption as His Spirit reveals the word to our minds and seals the word to our hearts.  This is anything but a dry and dreary exercise, and one can imagine the sparkle in Dr. Kapic’s eye as he writes, “we are on an adventure.”  Yes, and God calls us “to come, to gaze at Christ, to hear his word and to respond in faith and love.”

Part Two consists of seven chapters and delves into the characteristics of faithful theology and theologians.  This discussion is germane to all who speak of God because “whenever we speak about God we are engaged in theology.”  Here Dr. Kapic stresses the inseparability of one’s life and theology.  It is a “practical science” in which we are not neutral observers but fully engaged pursuers “who wrestle and rest in the God who has made himself known.”  In a culture satiated with rampant hypocrisy and empty promises it is refreshing to hear him say that ours must be lived theology.  How sorely we moderns need to grasp this point!  The theologian is one “who freely soaks in the love of the Father and the grace of the Son and finds renewal in the strong fellowship of the Spirit.” This refusal to divorce theological considerations from practical human application is what Dr. Kapic calls an “anthroposensitive theology.” Six traits of a good theologian are highlighted.  First, one must exercise “faithful reason” or a reasoning from God’s revelation that is full of faith.  A good theologian resists emotionalism on the one hand with his reason and guards against rationalism on the other hand with his faith.

Second, he must be committed to prayer since God is not the mere object of study but the Lord he worships.  Only by prayer may we avoid making our faith “something we discuss rather than something that moves us.” Third, a good theologian must be humble and penitent.  Pride sounds the death knell of good theology.  As finite and fallen creatures, we are sinners who live before One who is infinitely greater than ourselves and we depend completely on His grace and stand in need of the wisdom and insight of others.

Fourth, a good theologian must be compassionate.  He knows “that God’s glory is gracious and that his grace is glorious,” and this leads to a “public theology” that sympathetic toward and concerned for the vulnerable.  Fifth, a good theologian seeks the counsel of saints both past and present.  “The Spirit guides the church as a body and not just a collection of assorted individuals.” Consequently Dr. Kapic underscores the benefit of engaging with tradition and locates himself among the Reformed.  But he quickly adds that our final authority is God speaking in and through the Scriptures.  “Our worship,” he says, “is not a solo but a chorus of praise.”

Finally, echoing the Psalmist he says a good theologian must love the Scriptures.  “Oh how I love your law!” (Psalm 119:97).  The self-revelation of God in the Bible is the means by which He forms His church and shapes our worship.  Indeed, it is in Scripture that “we feel the warmth of his breath” having our memories stimulated, our hearts enlivened, our souls comforted and our affections drawn to Christ. Evaluation:  This is an excellent, well-written little book.  One must not be fooled by its brevity and simplicity into thinking it is insignificant or trivial.  Part of its value lies in its accessibility to all Christians.

Evaluation: The book is little for good reason.  As a primer for new theologians it is not likely to intimidate or overburden them.  It is not meant for extended theological study or a full scale examination of doctrine.  The “full course meal” will likely follow.  This little book is meant to whet the theological appetite and prepare the aspiring soul, and in both goals it succeeds.  The book’s content is concise but its wisdom is deep.  Dr. Kapic’s straightforward presentation offers profound truths and practical wisdom in a pleasant and irenic style.  It is said that great beauty is often most appreciated through simplicity and candor.  Of this Dr. Kapic’s book is a good example.  The material itself is biblical and sound, the style direct and fluid, the spirit gracious and affable.  I warmly recommend it.

Learn more at Amazon.com, IVP or ChristianBook.com.

Comments on Chapter 1: Dr. Stephen Moroney, Chair, Department of Theology at Malone University

Summary: While some people are haunted by the question of whether or not God exists, the vast majority of humans believe that there is a God and many of us wonder what God is like. People have theological questions and convictions and whenever they ponder those questions or voice those convictions, they are engaged in theology–the study of God. The Bible warns us, however, that our ideas about God and our responses to God are tainted by sin. We are tempted to create false gods and follow them, whether the golden calf or Baals of the ancient Israelites or the self-absorption and self-centered consumerism of modern western culture. Idols gleam and glimmer but they can never satisfy our souls in any deep or lasting way. Even more seriously, idolatrous ideas distort our worship of the one true God. Theological reflection can help us here, says Kapic, as “a way of examining our praise, prayers, words and worship with the goal of making sure they conform to God alone.”  As those who are made for joyous fellowship with God, human beings cannot afford to miss out on theology and its exploration of our Creator.

Evaluation: A central purpose of Kapic’s little book is to help people avoid the plague of theological detachment, marked by “a divide between spirituality and theology, between life and thought.” The first chapter, a mere five pages in length, offers the initial antidote to this plague. Kapic makes the point that it is part of the human condition to think and to speak words about God.  Kapic quotes Martin Luther to the effect that “we are all called theologians,” and he cites Carolyn Custis James’ insight that “whether our theology is good or flawed, those we love most will be first to feel the effects.” Like it or not, we are already theologians who have entered the conversation about God. Formal, intentional, systematic study of theology merely helps us do better what we inevitably do anyway–think and talk about God. The opening chapter is an inviting entrée to themes Kapic will develop in more depth later in the book: faithful worship of God, true (but imperfect) knowledge and love of God, enjoyment and delight in God, personal faith and reasoned commitment to God, growth in theological wisdom through prayerful study of God, humble and repentant response to God, compassionate concern and pursuit of godly justice, all undertaken with others in the community of faith, in loving dependence on Scripture, which draws us to evermore embrace the triune God by whom and for whom we were created.

Learn more at Amazon.comIVP or ChristianBook.com.

Commentary on Chapter 2 by Tim Longbrake, Assistant Director of Spiritual Formation at Malone University

Summary: One cannot worship what one does not know. More knowledge of God necessarily leads to a greater worship of God. This is why it is so important to study theology: seeking after knowledge of God and consequently gaining a level of revelation leads to a change in worldview. Humanity must find meaning in first understanding God in whatever capacity that knowledge is afforded.  Only after gaining knowledge of God can one begin to understand oneself. Kapic warns that “it is not that we lost sight of all except God, but rather that we view everything in light of God and through the story of his creation and redemption.” The Kingdom of God is the lens through which one views the world, and the study of theology serves to focus this lens to allow for a better and clearer understanding of God’s will and purpose. Moreover, since real worship cannot be contained within the walls of a sanctuary, worship must consume one’s entire existence, a constant seeking to “think God’s thoughts after him.” True worship of the Almighty occurs when one passionately seeks after God.

Evaluation: Kapic writes this chapter to rightly focus Christian worship. There has been a fairly recent trend in musical worship of singing songs of praise to God that are more about what the singer is doing than all that God has done. Too often congregants are engrossed in lifting themselves up in worship; but worship should not be an autonomous act of egocentrism directed toward nothing in particular. Instead, worship of the One True God should be rooted in one’s knowledge in and thereby directed toward God. While one’s knowledge of God in his essence will always be limited, the journey to know God is essential in order to truly worship him. This is vital information for the Theologian: attaining knowledge of God leads to deeper, more meaningful worship. The perception is often the opposite, that one becomes rigid and aloof with more theological education, but Kapic successfully argues that knowledge of God leads to intimacy and not detachment. For theologians—which as explained in chapter 1 is everyone who endeavors to know God—it is encouraging that any understanding of God increases the joy found in knowing God. To truly know someone is to love them; to truly love them is to know them.

Learn more at Amazon.comIVP or ChristianBook.com.

Commentary on Chapter 4, “The Inseparability of Life and Theology” by Kim Deitrick, Director of Christian Education & Youth, Grace UCC Uniontown

Kelly Kapic’s handy guide, A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology, provides a crisp and to-the-point look at the inevitable relationship between theology and the Christian life. He purposefully explains how the knowledge of God helps us to understand and conform to God in ways that are simple yet worship-filled, wonderful yet unique. With the help of ideals from timeless theologians such as Augustine, Kierkegaard, Barth, Chesterton, and Calvin, Kapic challenges his readers to take this relationship seriously as we join on the pilgrimage of faith together.

Kapic delves into the interwoven nature of everyday life and theology in chapter four, “The Inseparability of Life and Theology.” He sparks the attention of the theologian when he asks, “How is my life related to my theology,” for it is a travesty to consider separating one from the other. Kapic argues that, despite the rise of postmodern ideas, the Holy Spirit should be the true leader to helping us understand God.

To prove this, he introduces us to some great theologians of the ages: Paul, Gregory of Nazianzus, Charles Hodge, and J.I. Packer. All agree that the mark of a true theologian lies not in the depth and breadth of intellectual maturity with a goal of perfection; rather, it lies in the realization that we are all sinners saved by grace and directed through the daily struggles of life by the Spirit—that is true faithfulness. A person does not simply know God through studying scripture hermeneutically and purposefully; she also needs to experience the presence of God and prepare herself spiritually for everyday encounters with the living God.

However, Kapic does take care to warn that pride and piety can very often step in the way of theological discussions. Instead of studying and speaking of God with arrogance and feeling as if we have God completely figured out, we should come to speak of theology in a way that reflects the humility in our study and softness in our hearts. Great theologians come to terms with the fact that God will always be too infinite for our very finite minds to understand; we will never be able to fully comprehend God’s character and love and to attempt to claim that we do proves dangerous indeed. What Kapic refers to as “anthroposensitive theology” affirms what all past theologians have concluded: our intellectual thoughts about theology must also be accompanied by life-application.

Inevitably, our ultimate goal is to apply our thoughts about theology into our lives as spiritual beings serving a God who communes with us, cares for us, and reveals himself to us humbly. We become great theologians by being devoted to, as Kapic explains throughout the rest of the book, faithful reason, prayer and study, humility and repentance, suffering, justice, and knowing God, tradition and community, and love of scripture.

Kelly Kapic moves mountains with this compelling and faith-filled, one-hundred page book. He clearly has worked many long hours and had conversations with many to put together his thoughts about theology into this succinct guide. It does not matter if one comes to A Little Book for New Theologians well-versed in theology or if one takes up this book for daily devotional reading, it benefits positively all who read it because of Kapic’s desire for the reader to connect his or her Christian life with the study of theology.

Quoting Martin Luther as saying, “We are all called theologians, just as we are all called Christians,” Kapic strings this theme through all of the chapters, talking to the reader as if he sits with him nonchalantly in a café, speaking in words that are clear and easy to understand (15). Desiring to know God and study what God is like proves a challenge but is something that all Christians must attempt because God is not only at the very center of our core and our being, but knowing God also ties together within us the relationship between worship, wisdom, and knowing our own selves. We cannot separate our Christian life from theology, for the two are like a basket that has been tightly woven together to create a strong holding place for whatever may be carried within.

Learn more at Amazon.comIVP or ChristianBook.com.

Commentary on Chapter 6 by Rev. Amy Price, Adjunct Professor Malone University, Pastor in the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church

Summary: In his 2012 book, A Little Book for New Theologians, Kelly Kapic seeks to put forth an accessible understanding of what theology is, identifies the reader as a theologian, and gives a lay of the land for theological practice.  Chapter Six is a very brief treatise on the role of prayer and study in the practice of theology.  Kapic cautions the new theologian that one’s practice of theology is not an outward discipline, but an inner one.  To read of Luther’s epiphany (or Wesley’s strangely warmed heart), is not the same as having one’s own personal experience of God.  Prayer and study are the ways for the theologian to wrestle with her faith and truly encounter the risen Christ.  However, it is not simply having times of prayer or study that are important, according to Kapic, rebutting the popular evangelical notion of “quiet time” or “devotions.”  Instead, Kapic rightly emphasizes “constant communion” with God, having an attitude of prayer, a constant awareness of the presence of God.  This attitude of prayer is coupled with coram Deo, the living of life before God.  With a life of prayer and a life lived before God, theological study and reflection is not simply study, but divine and life-giving conversation.

Evaluation: Having recently graduated from seminary, Kapic’s book reminded me very much of a first-year seminary text.  In fact, I would recommend it as an excellent introductory text at any seminary.  It’s a fast read and would give all first-year students, regardless of their various vocational backgrounds, equal footing at the start of their seminary journey.  His attention to prayer and study as facets of theological practice are spot-on, and I applaud his emphasis on the constancy and pervasiveness of prayer in one’s life.  I wished he could have spent more time on this topic, but that would betray the “littleness” of this little book.

Having skimmed the other reviews posted on the www.MaloneCTM.com blog (I know, a big no-no!), I’d have to agree with the other affirmations of the book as a whole, while offering one major criticism: the formatting.  I understand it’s difficult to write a text such as this without referencing other writers and theologians; however, I found the frequency of footnotes and semi-related block quotes inserted on nearly every page rather distracting.  Still, a solid introductory text to theological reflection and practice (two items that should never be separated, in my opinion, and thankfully, Kapic’s).

Learn more at Amazon.comIVP or ChristianBook.com.

Commentary on Chapter 7 by Adam Robb

In Chapter 7 of A Little Book For New Theologians, Kelly M Kapic sets out to show the importance of Humility and Repentance in the study of theology. He explains how God regards those who are humble in their pursuit of Him by giving them grace and why God is opposed to those who are proud or arrogant. He also cites some well known theologians such as Augustine and Martin Luther, showing how they guarded themselves against pride.

‘In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that- and therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison- you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.’ – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. Kapic does a magnificent job juxtaposing God’s immensity with our finite nature and how that affects our studies and attitudes toward others. In this chapter it’s as if he is holding up a mirror to our lives so the reader can see whether or not they have been practicing humility themselves.

Learn more at Amazon.comIVP or ChristianBook.com.

 

— More chapter reviews to come in the future!

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