Book Review: The Method of Christian Theology: A Basic Introduction by Ryhne Putman

The Method of Christian Theology: A Basic Introduction by Ryhne Putman. B&H Academic  336 pgs.

One of the fist books I ever read on prolegomena was Norman Geisler’s Systematic Theology 1. I had him for a professor and found this to be extremely helpful. Prolegomena (literally, “to say before”), is necessary for the reader to gain a proper understanding of what is going to be said in the body of the work. When we study theology,  prolegomena refers to the study of preliminary matters that are necessary to “set up” the formal theological study. I have always been concerned that many pastors who are trained in exegeting the Bible have not had any formal training in prolegomena. These issues are discussed in Rhyne’s Putman’s book called The Method of Christian Theology: A Basic Introduction. In 336 pages, Putman covers a broad range of topics that help the reader to understand the task of doing theology (i.e., the study of God). One of the most refreshing things about this book is the holistic tone it has. Chapters 5 and 6 are devoted to developing a heart and mind for doing theology. For me, since I have an apologetics emphasis in all I do with directing campus apologetics ministry, I was pleasantly surprised to see Putman devote chapters to worldview (Chapter 3), religious epistemology (pgs. 107-117), and philosophy and theology (Ch 9). He rightly notes that “apologetics  in an interdisciplinary exercise that draws from biblical studies, philosophy, history, and the natural sciences.” (pg. 75).

 As I said, given the holistic nature of this book, Putman also devotes a chapter to Experience and Christian Theology (Ch 10). He notes that “religious experience does not dictate the meaning of Scripture. Scripture gives meaning to experience, and experience confirms biblical truth.” (pg.194).   I think everyone who is engaged in theological debate would benefit greatly from the section called “Theology in the Spirit” (pg. 92-99).  Putman uses the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5: 22-23), as the springboard for the proper attitude in doing theology. As he notes, “a theologian in the flesh is combative, reactionary, and prone to outbursts” while a theologian in the Spirit is the opposite (pg.91). Theology in the flesh divides people and seeks the accolades of others (pg. 284). While there might be a time to engage in polemics to fight off a heresy, in many cases, the way Christians treat each other in theological disagreement in many cases is anything but reflecting the fruit of the Spirit. He also rightly notes that in the era of social media that every theological conflict does not demand a response from us.

I should note that another strength in each chapter is that Putman is careful to define terms. At the end of each chapter, there is additional reading material. He even leaves the last two chapters to the “how to’s” of “How to Write a Theological Paper” and “How to Preach a Doctrinal Sermon” (Ch. 13-14). As Putman righty concludes, “The labor of theology should result in the fruit of doctrine: faithful and true teachings derived from Scripture and used to grow God’s people in knowledge, spiritual maturity, and obedience”’ (pg. 284).  This book is comprehensive in nature and covers a broad range of topics so that one can be effective in their approach to doing theology. Granted, this book is not as philosophical and apologetic as Geisler’s. Terms are clearly defined, and each chapter provides additional reading on specific topics. I highly recommend it.

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