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Book Corner February 2009
The Comeback God
Reviewed by Dr. Susan K. Hedahl
This work announces its intent on the cover in the sub-title: “a theological primer for a life of faith.” Indeed, the contents chart out the relationship between theology and faithful living in a clear, humorous and contemporary fashion.
The author, a pastor, seminary president and teacher says of his work, “My intent is to construct a biblically based introductory theology with liberating ethical and pastoral possibilities.” (xii) and that is precisely what he achieves. Although beginning in the unusual but interesting fashion of first looking at eschatology, he covers a variety of core theological themes and pinpoints the theme which unites them all: “God always keeps coming back! God is the irresistible, unstoppable, unremitting force of love, redemption, and renewal in the universe—at all times and in all places. That is the overarching thematic strain that will be played over and over again… (xiii).” In short, what the author desires is for the reader to come away equipped with a deeper knowledge and engagement in “a Christian theology for turbulent times.” (xiv)
The core theological topics the book discusses include scripture, the nature of God, Christology and soteriology, pneumatology and ecclesiology, the sacraments, ministry and ethics. There is also a useful addendum on theological method.
Each chapter concludes with a section called “For Future Pondering and Probing.” The questions and ideas are not only thought-provoking but point to issues that continue to create conflict. For example, the chapter on creation includes a question that asks the reader to reflect on her or his responses to “the theory of evolution or some variation of “creationism” or “intelligent design” that posits or allows for a divine Creator.” (25) For a number of questions these very terms are fighting words!! Nevertheless, how appropriate to combine a discussion of creation and God with precisely such a recognition of how these realities intersect with contemporary debates.
The work also gently introduces many terms that are basic to a study of theology: dialectic, hermeneutic, postmodernism, global, pluralistic. Definitions are succinct and useful such as the theological term used to describe reading portions of Scripture in worship services: “these are called pericopes, from Greek words meaning “seen from a common perspective.” (48)
It is evident the author’s work emerges from years of experience in teaching across a wide spectrum of various educational venues in the church: adult forums, Sunday School classes, judicatory presentations, lay school classrooms and seminary classrooms. This is important because the author has, at many levels, the knack of anticipating which questions a religious seeker and lay reader might ask in relationship to the several topics of this work.I would recommend this work for those seeking education in various laity classes in the area of basic theology. Anyone interested in personally probing the question of attending seminary should definitely read this work. Having known the author for the last twenty-five years, it is a delight to read this work as a witness to his many experiences as a pastor, a judicatory leader, a teacher and a seminary president. The work will yield a rich harvest of information, pastoral support and insight for all who read it!