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.
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 is 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. 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. This book was provided free from IVP Academic with my promise to post an unbiased review.