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Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs Paperback – February 1, 2001
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From the Back Cover
How can I know God better?
"If only I had the time to study theology. . . ."
If only someone could explain the essentials of theology in bite-sized portions. If only there were a resource that went deeper without drowning the reader in page after page. J. I. Packer has done it!
Finally, there's a book that explains the essentials of theology in a style and length that busy readers can appreciate. J. I. Packer, noted theologian and author of Knowing God, offers 94 concise studies. Each focuses on our great God and his wonderful plan for us.
Where does the Bible say that?
Each study is just a couple of pages long. That means you can find the answers you need quickly. But don't be fooled--there are plenty of Scripture references on every page. You can go as deep as you want at the pace you want. Short studies on the essentials. In these chapters, you'll find what Packer calls the "permanent essentials of Christianity." The essentials are summarized so that you can find them quickly and easily. The essentials are expressed in such a way that you can both understand and appreciate the greatness of God. So jump right in. Discover for yourself how Christian theology is not just a system of beliefs, but a way of life.
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As a scholastic Calvinist, he also continues the tradition of emphasizing the work of Mosaic Law over Grace in sanctification. His other chapters are highly seasoned with Mosaic Law as well. He has 3 chapters that emphasize Law and not one on Grace! Someone should give him a copy of Romans and Galatians. In addition, Packer doesn't hesitate to use only those verses which seem to support his position. The rest are completely ignored. If you buy into the dogmatic System of logic and Reformed traditions, over the plain Word of God, then this is the book for you. For those who are truly seeking biblical insights, please look elsewhere, or at least read this book with an open study Bible that lists the verses that don't agree with him.
As a follow-up to my previous review, I would like to make the following clarifications about Mr. Packer's work.
First of all, the title is very deceptive to the potential reader who might stumble across it in a bookstore. Instead of "Concise Theology: A Guide To Historic Christian Beliefs." Mr. Packer should have been upfront with the reader and called it "Concise Reformed Theology: A Guide to Reformed Traditions".
I have read this book twice, the first time being disappointed in noting how this is mainly the Reformed Church traditions in proof-text format. The second time I highlighted all the times he refers to Christians as being as Jews still under the Mosaic Law. I had to get a second highlighter as rarely does any chapter neglect this theory numerous times. The word "grace" is rarely mentioned unless it is equated with Mosaic Law.
As for his prooftexts for TULIP theology, just one flagrant example is in the chapter he calls "Definite Redemption" and it is based mainly on verses like John 17:9. Using isogesis, he takes the one verse completely out of context, as Christ is praying for His disciples, who are already saved. If this wasn't bad enough, he also fails to inform the reader that later on in the same chapter (verses 21-23) Christ does pray for those whom Mr. Packer says He doesn't...incredible! The other verses he lists, if taken in their contexts, never rule out General Redemption.
This is a classic example of a deductive and scholastic methodology where one interprets the Scriptures based on one's preconceived ideas of theology! It appears that he developed this habit from reading too many scholastic Puritans like John Owen. For the above example, here are just some of the verses the serious and objective Bible student should reference:
1 Tim. 2:4, 6; 2 Peter 2:1; John 3:16, 17; 1 John 2:2; 1 Tim. 4:10; 2 Cor. 5:19; Isa. 53:6; Heb. 2:9; John 4:42; 1 John 4:14; 2 Peter 3:9; Titus 2:11; John 1:29, etc...
As alluded to in my previous review, Mr. Packer's use of terms like "antinomian dispensationalist", and "hypothetical universalist", etc. are intended to be pejorative. As a theologian, Packer knows these are theological swear words, and he uses them as such to try and belittle any Christian who is not Reformed. As a teacher and pastor, he should know better how to lead by a Christ-like example. On the positive side, this book might be of use to the first year seminary student as a manual of how proof-texting can be abused, even by prominent theologians with an ax to grind. It might also be helpful in studying the logical fallacy known as Theologism (interpreting all Scripture using only one of God's attributes).
That said, if you do buy this book, do yourself a favor and PLEASE look at the verses he gives in their contexts, and use a concordance to reference those that challenge the ones he gives. If you are really looking for a biblical "concise" guide get A Survey of Bible Doctrine by Charles Ryrie, or his meatier Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth.
The book is a superb presentation of theology in bite-sized sections with 95 chapters each only a few pages long. The sweep of theology is covered from revelation, theology proper, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, sin, salvation, the church, some Christian living topics, and the end times. Each chapter is direct and well explained as Packer has a wonderful way with words and noting relevant verse references leading to sections that are very informative and deep, making this book refreshing as a theological read that encourages theological reflection.
Packer masterfully writes in a devotional and practical style that consistently remains on point with whatever topic is being addressed. His background is Covenental and Anglican, but I rarely found this to be a hindrance in this theological study because he is charitable to other positions.
The title really explains some of the limitations this book has that should not count against it: 1) it does not reference other theological literature frequently, 2) every theological nuance or possible question is not addressed in the book; but again this book does not set out to be a lengthy systematic. I wonder (and hope) that the author might produce a more lengthy systematic in the future!
This is a book that would be great for a group study. It is also works very well as a theological reference as I find myself turning to it again and again. I highly recommend it to all as a refreshing walk through theology and a useful theological tool.
(1) God Revealed as Creator
(2) God Revealed as Redeemer
(3) God Revealed as Lord of Grace
(4) God Revealed as Lord of Destiny
Each section contains a short, but extremely pointed summary of a particular doctrine. The book is not designed to be a comprehensive systematic theology. Rather it is written with the layman in mind who has a desire to learn doctrinal truth or may not have the time to devote to a larger work. The precision with which this book is written may encourage readers to study further in a given area.
J.I. Packer continues to write in a way that many have grown to love and expect. Three basic strengths must be noted. First, the author emphasizes the greatness and majesty of God. Packer emphasizes that "theology is for doxology." He writes, "The truest expression of trust in a great God will always be worship, and it will always be proper worship to praise God for being far greater than we can know." Second, Concise Theology is a superb introduction to Reformed thought. Yet the author does not "wear his theology on his sleeve." This work may appeal to a broad range of people who otherwise may be reluctant to study Reformed theology. Finally, the most controversial points of Reformed theology are dealt with in an honest and forthright manner. The most engaging essays include Packer's discussion on particular redemption, the enslaved will, effectual calling, and the constitution of man.
The church owes a tremendous debt to Dr. Packer's faithful ministry over the years. May his tribe increase!