Book Review: Concise Theology – By J.I. Packer

 

Packer Concise Theology.pngletter-c.pngConcise Theology is what might be called a Reformed and evangelical survey of what author J.I. Packer deemed “the permanent essentials of Christianity.” Theology for the purpose of this text is defined as “first the activity of thinking and speaking about God, and second the product of that activity… theology is for doxology and devotion – that is, he praise of God and the practice of godliness.”

Thus, this is a guide covering both how to think and act in relation to God.

As the word ‘concise’ should hint in the title, this is not an in-depth study of any particular doctrine or aspect of theology, but instead offers a brief synopsis of roughly 94 theological terms common to Christianity, ranging from ‘General Revelation’ and ‘Transcendence’ to ‘Providence’, ‘The Fall’, ‘Vocation’, ‘Election’, ‘Sacraments’, ‘Mortality’ and ‘General Resurrection’. These ninety-four sections are divided into four categories, each dealing with a different aspect of God: God as Creator, as Redeemer, as Lord of Grace, and as Lord of Destiny.

In content this book can be comparable to an encyclopedia of terms, though arranged categorically as opposed to alphabetically. The goal is take each idea in turn and give the historic Christian belief relating to that term, providing a concise description along with Biblical proofs for justification of the given interpretation.

In this the text serves its purpose well. It would do well as a survey of Christian beliefs for one curious to know just what it is Christians believe about a wide range of subjects, it would also do well simply as a reference book for one more familiar with the faith but who want a text at hand to relate certain ideas in scripture to.

A last benefit of the text is that it’s written in a very accessible manner. One doesn’t need to be intimately familiar with Christianity to follow the train of thought or understand the terminology, which is why I suggest it as a good intro text for those wishing to delve deeper into Christian theology. With each section being only a few pages long (and the print being of decent size) it shouldn’t overwhelm even the most novice of explorers. In the end it’s a nice relaxing synopsis of Christian doctrine as presented through a wide range of specific terms.

Memorable Quotes:

-“Death is decisive for destiny.”

-“God foreordains the means as well as the end, and our prayer is foreordained as the means whereby he brings his sovereign will to pass.”

-“The truth is that, though we are justified by faith alone, the faith that justifies is never alone”

Specific Criticisms

I don’t have many criticisms of this text. In the brevity of each section it is difficult to find any particular flaw, the book is only meant to cover the basics.

One thing which might be held against the book is that it claims to present ‘the essentials of Christianity’ and then proceeds to cover everything from the view of angels to the state to the views on each sacrament. One might be able to question whether each of these really constitute an essential aspect of Christianity, without which one would be severely lacking in their knowledge of the faith.

This question I think would be a valid one; for instance, a discussion of whether oaths and vows (which have their own section) are still a legitimate practice may have practical benefits and application, I would hardly call the knowledge of whether a Christian is allowed to swear an oath ‘essential knowledge’. Still, it is helpful to know, so I won’t drag the author down too much – I liked the fact that it was in there, even though I would hardly place it on the same level as say the doctrines of the Trinity, Incarnation or Original Sin.

Granted, this critique hinges on whether “essentials” is meant to refer to “the essential doctrines of Christianity” or “the essential aspects of each Christian doctrine.” I lean towards the latter, simply because it fits with the way the text reads.

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