Book Review | Engaging Theology (A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Introduction) by Ben C. Blackwell and R. L. Hatchett

I’m happy to offer a positive review for the relatively recently published book, Engaging Theology: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Introduction, by Ben C. Blackwell and R.L. Hatchett. The formatting of the text is beautiful and easy to follow, the writing is personable, interesting, and accessible, the theology is both deeply orthodox and broadly ecumenical, and I’m confident that this would be a great resource for all those wishing to learn more about the Christian faith – whether for use by church leaders for lay classes or by universities for a variety of undergraduate theology courses.

I myself have taught introductory Christian theology courses for many years as well as upper-level Systematic Theology courses and have yet to come across a textbook as unique and valuable as this work from Blackwell and Hatchett – both beloved professors at Houston Baptist University’s School of Christian Thought. Engaging Theology is the textbook I wish I could have been using for many years prior to its publishing. For university professors and administrators, I think it compares most closely to something like the excellent work of Beth Felker Jones’ Practicing Christian Doctrine: An Introduction to Thinking and Living Theologically. While I have used and still appreciate her work, I do think Blackwell and Hatchett’s contribution is even more practical and relevant, while also grounding theology a bit more deeply in important historical and biblical contexts.

I’ve now had the opportunity to utilize Engaging Theology as one of my textbooks for an upper level Systematic Theology course and the students universally found it as insightful and interesting as I imagined and expected that they would. It’s clearly a theology textbook written by professors with countless hours of classroom experience behind them who hoped to craft the type of introductory text to Christian theology that they knew would serve their students most effectively. Mission accomplished.

It’s very well organized book with each chapter following a key theological topic through four distinct sections: 1) Story, 2) Doctrinal exposition, 3) Contemporary Theological Relevance, and 4) Practicing the Faith.

The chapters begin with an engaging account of ancient and modern stories of theologians and theological movements that both immediately illustrate the importance of the doctrine being discussed while also priming the curiosity of the reader. As one example: the story of Augustine and Pelagius perfectly sets the tone for the chapter on Salvation and Christian views on grace.

Blackwell and Hatchett then move on to the primary section of each chapter: a thorough (yet balanced) exposition of the key doctrinal ideas and terms for the topic at hand, with special attention given to areas of ecumenical agreement and detailed accounts of the key issues that constitute debate among various denominations or theological camps of Christians. The book does an excellent job of anchoring these doctrinal expositions in the narrative of Scripture and following the theological development of the orthodox faith throughout the history of the church. Likewise, there are a wide variety of diagrams, illustrations, and tables that really help summarize the information being presented.

The final two pieces of each chapter really set this textbook apart from others on the market with their focus on the contemporary theological relevance as it relates to Christian traditions like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as other world religions and relevant cultural movements. For example: in the chapter on Humanity and Sin, they briefly address the issue of human modification and transhumanism/posthumanism, highlighting key questions and areas where the theological tradition of Christianity might be able to converse with these continuing movements. Likewise, the chapters almost always “stick the landing” by suggesting concrete and practical ways to live out the theological topics being discussed. One more example will suffice: in the chapter on Revelation, Engaging Theology isn’t content with vague appeals to study the Scriptures but instead thoughtfully walks the reader through ways of meeting God in the Scriptures, practicing historical spiritual disciplines like the Lectio Divina, and engaging a discussion about and issuing an invitation to praying the psalms.

Engaging Theology uses language simple enough for the new Christian looking to learn more about their faith (the Glossary of Key Terms is very helpful in this regard) and yet also has enough depth to it to challenge upper-level undergraduate students in their theological educations. I highly recommend it and look forward to continue to using it as a textbook for my own theology courses, both at the local church I pastor and at the university where I have the occasional opportunity to teach theology courses.

Note: I received this book from Zondervan Academic as an exam copy to both use as a textbook and in exchange for an unbiased review.

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