In the spirit of teaching someone how to fish, rather than simply handing over his own catch, Graham Cole, dean of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has blessed us with an excellent short book on theological method. This is the introductory volume for a new Crossway series entitled Short Studies in Systematic Theology. Volumes on the Trinity, Christology and Pneumatology, among others, are planned.
Although the book is brief (barely more than 100 small pages), it is not dumbed-down. The doctrine of the Trinity is Cole’s go-to example for demonstrating the outworking of his method throughout, and he includes a brief discussion of both the substance of the Chalcedonian Definition and its approach to maintaining orthodoxy.
The book has five chapters, each covering an element of Cole’s theological method: the primacy of Scripture, the place of Christian teaching from the past, the need to understand our place in salvation history, the need for wisdom and the nature of theology as worship. Occasionally some examples within the chapters felt like slightly random asides to the argument, but each chapter is so short that there’s little chance of getting lost. With an economy of words and lightness of touch, Cole introduces an array of theological concepts along way: the Arian heresy, the difference between sola Scriptura and nuda Scriptura, dogmatic rank, virtue epistemology and more besides.
Many people would benefit from Cole’s labours. This is not a book for complete beginners, but it would certainly make a stimulating read for an interested small group leader, especially if they have received more training in biblical theology than systematics, or for someone about to begin formal theological study. The bite-size nature of the book would lend itself well to reading a chapter at a time with someone else—a ministry apprentice, perhaps, to complement their other training. And those with more formal training will still find plenty here, in both text and footnotes, to remind, refresh and find an excuse to reuse somewhere else!