Why study theology? This is the opening question that A Little Book for New Theologians posits for the reader. It was written by Kelly M. Kapic and published by InterVarsity Press in 2012. He lectures at Covenant College and aims to equip future church leaders for fruitful service.
This book is intended to help theological students avoid the “dichotomies of theological detachment” (10). The author begins the book by making the case that theological study matters because everyone is inherently a theologian (i.e., everyone has thoughts and conclusions about God). The Christian is required by the Scriptures to worship the true God, and only in the accurate study of God’s self-revelation can the Christian fulfil this requirement.
The Christian is required by the Scriptures to worship the true God, and only in the accurate study of God’s self-revelation can the Christian fulfil this requirement.Tweet
The author devotes chapter two to establish the point that true knowledge of God is undivided from true worship of God. Even though the Christian’s knowledge of God is derived, which is the thesis of chapter three, his worship and enjoyment of God is linked to his knowledge of him. Because of the “reciprocal relationship between theology and practice” (47), Kapic proposes what he calls an “anthroposensitive” approach to theology. With this he means a “refusal to divorce theological considerations from practical human application, since theological reflections are always interwoven with anthropological concerns” (49). Kapic argues here that theological study does not occur in a vacuum but rather in the heat of the theologian’s life. The theologian must therefore cultivate faithfulness in his life if he is to guard the purity of his theology. He proposes six characteristics that will aid in this cultivation.
The first of these, which he discusses in chapter five, is faithful reason. Here Kapic argues that faith in God is required if reasoning is to be accurate.
The theologian must therefore cultivate faithfulness in his life if he is to guard the purity of his theology.Tweet
Because of man’s sin and his limitations, only through trusting in God’s revelation can a man speak truthfully about God. He criticizes the claims of unbiased reasoning, arguing that no reasoning can exist without “some kind of faith commitment” (52). In chapter six he discusses prayer and study, where he contends that the solution to the deadly gap between theological study and personal experience is prayer. He defines this as a life lived before God “at all times” (67), studying God without neglecting communion with him.
Because of the reality of our finitude, the author in chapter seven argues that theological study must be accompanied by a life of humility and repentance. In chapter eight he contends that theological study must produce a life that cares about the world around it as God does. Chapter nine discusses the value of learning from the faith of those who came before and the necessity to do theology in community.
Chapter ten concludes the book with a call to love the Scriptures as the very source of God’s truth and revelation.
Should theologians pay attention to this book?
The heart of the book, which is Kapic’s anthroposensitive theology and its characteristics, has several positive qualities both theologically and practically. It must first be stated that any theological approach that has “anthropos” as a prefix can be misunderstood at best and heretical at worst. Kapic is aware of this criticism and argues that while theological reflection must be theocentric, “our theology is, at the same time, concerned with our relation to this God” (49). In defining this theological approach, Kapic stands on the argument that experience and practice inform theological output and not vice versa. It is therefore imperative that theological study occurs in a context where certain characteristics have been cultivated for it to be faithful.
The development of this argument in chapter four is worth considering. Kapic’s use of scholarly sources and biblical material—he relies heavily on Charles Hodge, J. I. Packer and Proverbs 4:23—is convincing and leaves little room to believe that this is either an unbiblical notion or a historically unfounded one.
Although Kapic could have accessed more Scriptures to bolster the case, the usage evident here nevertheless is substantial considering the nature of the book. Kapic is also concerned to not use terms that can be misunderstood, thus forcing the reader to consider the argumentation on its own merits without the baggage certain words may carry.
This book is an excellent call to humility and a life of prayer while pursuing theological accuracy.Tweet
Whatever the terms Kapic uses, the argument itself is biblically sound. This is a theological approach that requires the theologian to watch over his soul and care for the world around him while pursuing the knowledge of God in Scripture. This book is an excellent call to humility and a life of prayer while pursuing theological accuracy. The discussion on “faithful reason” is instructive for theologians on the topic of presuppositions and how they are to be understood. Any personal lack in the characteristics listed from chapter six and following should concern any theologian.
There are, however, some failings in Kapic’s argumentation. If the argument is that a theologian’s life must be faithful in order to produce faithful theology, then the fourth characteristic, “suffering, justice and knowing God” (chapter eight) is inconsistent with that argument. Kapic says that “faithful theology leads the theologian outward to consider God as he is revealed in his words and actions. Thus, theology must reflect God’s compassion and care for us and for our neighbours” (84). For accuracy’s sake, this is in fact a biblical notion, but it does not fit with the argument. In fact, it breaks the argument as this characteristic is listed as a product of faithful theology, not the other way around.
Another point of failure in the argumentation is the lack of systematic development of these six characteristics. They read more like proverbial pastoral advice rather than a unit of systematic thought flowing from the argument. He shows neither an anchor text which he would exegete or a logical flow where these characteristics would clearly develop. There is nothing wrong with proverbial pastoral advice but the lack of a framework which guides its development can lead to practically anything being added into this list of characteristics.
This book forces the reader to deal with their heart as of first importance throughout their time of theological study.Tweet
The book would have benefited from a longer discussion of the framework of anthroposensitive theology. Although the author mentions that he has developed this approach elsewhere in his writings (49), the lack of clear development in this work leaves the reader unclear on the full definition of this approach and on its ruling framework.
Apart from this, it must be concluded that any man or woman interested in studying more of God should read this book, especially those who are involved in rigorous theological work. This book forces the reader to deal with their heart as of first importance throughout their time of theological study.