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How to Read Theology: Engaging Doctrine Critically and Charitably

Uche Anizor
Baker Academic, 2018, £13.99, ISBN 978-0801049750
Review by Jenny Gilbertson, Reader in the Diocese of Chester

<strong>How to Read Theology: Engaging Doctrine Critically and Charitably</strong>

Uche Anizor describes his book as ‘a primer for those wishing to sharpen their skills as readers of theology’. An Associate Professor of Theology at Biola University, Anizor is writing primarily for fledgling theology students but his book also has something to offer the fully-grown reader of theology.

As the title suggests, the book is in two parts. The first challenges the reader to read theology charitably. This really boils down to reading with an open mind and heart rather than dismissively and Anizor suggests that two things will facilitate this. The first is to understand something of the theologian’s own backstory – her church context, her social and cultural context, and the controversies and issues at play when the work was written. Anizor’s own church context is evangelical as is readily ascertainable from a swift online search and as is indicated in his text. He concedes that locating any given theologian’s context may not always be possible. He could perhaps also have acknowledged the risk of pigeonholing. Things are not always what they seem.

Second, drawing on Biblical texts, Anizor suggests that to read charitably it is necessary to be alert to one’s own pride, prejudice, preferences and impatience. This is helpful for the newly embarked reader of theology who may be anxious about the risks of being exposed to theological views which differ from his own. But it is also valuable for the seasoned reader who may well have become comfortably entrenched in her own viewpoint.

The second, rather longer section of the book presents a systematic and orderly ‘how to’ approach to reading theological texts. Anizor’s research interest is theological method, and he suggests ways in which the student might handle the relationship between theology and scripture, tradition, reason and experience. By and large the careful structuring of these chapters leads the reader along clearly marked paths through the theory of studying theology. At times though, the argument is over-structured and the path becomes lost in a thicket of section, sub-section, bullet points and so forth. More brief examples of the theories applied to actual texts would have helped to flesh out this section.

The two sections do not stand in isolation from each other. Anizor rightly argues that the charitable reading is also the most intelligent reading. The risk though is that the reader may be overly intimidated by the demands made to research the theologian being studied, identify the theological genre and constantly analyse context, use of logic and approach to scripture – all the while bearing in mind other competing understandings. The upshot could well be that he never dares pick up a theology book again! In his epilogue Anizor does acknowledge the risk of being overwhelmed and encourages the reader at least to start somewhere, even if that start is small.

For the preacher? ‘Good theology forms good people’, writes Anizor. It is surely the case that good theology – charitable theology, non-complacent theology, rigorous theology, also forms good preaching.


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