Across the Spectrum: A Review

Gregory A. Boyd & Paul R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006). 287 pages. ISBN: 9780801022760. Review copy courtesy of Baker Academic.

‘What Christ has done for me’, announced PT Forsyth, ‘has become possible only by what He did even more powerfully for others whose faith and experience have been deeper and richer than mine, but who reflect my experience all the same, even while they diversify and enlarge it mightily. Standing over my experience is the experience of the whole evangelical succession’. What Forsyth reminds us of here is of the great breadth and depth within the Christian tradition, a breadth and depth to be appreciated, studied and celebrated.

The purpose of this book by Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy is precisely to appreciate, study and celebrate this diversity within one dominant Christian tradition, and to introduce evangelical college students ‘to the positions evangelicals take on various disputed topics. Each position is argued from the perspective of one defending the position and is therefore presented as persuasively as possible’ (p. 6). The book assumes a distinctly liberal arts approach to theological study, presupposing that the teacher’s job is not indoctrination of one particular position, but rather to introduce students to a variety of perspectives while providing students with the tools to think critically for themselves.

Five presuppositions are identified by the authors: First, the goal of this book is not to present a balanced overview of Christian doctrine. Second, this book considers only options that are discussed and embraced within evangelicalism, defined by a commitment to the core beliefs of historic, orthodox Christianity as expressed in the ecumenical creeds and to the primacy of Scripture in all matters of faith and practice. The authors’ decisions concerning what constitutes ‘major’ and ‘minor’ issues are governed mostly by their own assessment of how lively a particular debate rages within the evangelical family. Third, the book promises only an introduction to the diverse positions within evangelicalism. Thus, along with space limitations, each chapter is intentionally non-technical and general in nature. This it does very well. Fourth, the theological criteria assumed is that proposed by John Wesley’s quadrilateral: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Fifth, each chapter follows the same basic outline: Firstly, a brief section introduces each topic. This is followed by an outline of common ground evangelicals share on the topic then a note of the different views evangelicals embrace concerning the topic. Next, major differing perspectives are presented and defended, utilising the quadrilateral when appropriate. Each chapter concludes by refuting objections to the position under discussion.

The various chapters are given to discussing the following questions:

  1. The Inspiration Debate (Inerrantist, Infallibilist)
  2. The Providence Debate (Calvinist, Armenian)
  3. The Foreknowledge Debate (Classical, Open)
  4. The Genesis Debate (Young Earth, Day-Age, Restoration, Literary Framework)
  5. The Divine Image Debate (Substantival, Functional, Relational)
  6. The Human Constitution Debate (Dichotomist, Trichotomist, Monistic)
  7. The Christology Debate (Classic, Kenotic)
  8. The Atonement Debate (Penal Substitution, Christus Victor, Moral Government)
  9. The Salvation Debate (Calvinist, Armenian)
  10. The Sanctification Debate (Lutheran, Calvinist, Keswick, Wesleyan)
  11. The Eternal Security Debate (Eternal Security, Conditional Security)
  12. The Destiny of the Unevangelized Debate (Restrictivist, Universal Opportunity, Post-Mortem Evangelism, Inclusivist)
  13. The Lord’s Supper Debate (Spiritual Presence, Memorial)
  14. The Baptism Debate (Believer’s Baptism, Infant Baptism)
  15. The Charismatic Gifts Debate (Continuationist, Cessationist)
  16. The Women in Ministry Debate (Complementarian, Egalitarian)
  17. The Millennium Debate (Premillennial, Postmillennial, Amillennial)
  18. The Hell Debate (Classical, Annihilationist)

The chapters I found most helpful were 3, 7, 10 and 12.

In addition, an online appendix is given to discuss the following topics:

  1. How Should Evangelicals “Do” Theology? The Theological Method Debate
  2. The Psychological and Social Models of the Trinity
  3. Was Noah’s Flood Global or Local?
  4. Must Wives Submit to their Husbands?
  5. Christians and Politics: Three Views
  6. What Happens to Babies Who Die?
  7. The Debate of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit
  8. Is Speaking in Tongues the Initial Evidence of Receiving the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?
  9. Can a Christian be Demonized?
  10. The Debate over the Book of Revelation
  11. Has Jesus Already Returned? The Preterist Debate
  12. When Will Jesus Return? The Rapture Debate.

Boyd and Eddy provide the entering year theology student or interested lay person with an accessible introduction to some of the burning points of debate amongst conservative evangelicals, introducing readers to major strands in the tradition of which they may be unaware or ignorantly dismissive of. While their selection (rather than their definition) of what constitutes the ‘hot spots’ of evangelical theology betrays something more North American than I am familiar with, Boyd and Eddy’s representations of the various positions are fair and respectful. The volume also includes a useful glossary and a good list of resources for further reading.

Any volume endeavouring to cover such a broad sweep of topics will inevitably fail to address the favourite topics of many of its readers, and this book is no different. The topics covered understandably betray a focus on North American evangelicalism (indeed, some of the non-American related facts are just plain wrong; for example, Keswick is not ‘a seaside English town’ (p. 156)), though there is enough here to inform the reader from anywhere, not least those with some discerning selectivity of chapter readings.

Two smallish reservations: First, the volume could have provided a little more engagement with how ideas develop and are shaped throughout history. Second, the chapter, ‘The Hell Debate, fails to offer as an alternative ‘evangelical’ view the notion of christological universalism, even though this position is increasingly gaining adherents among confessing evangelicals and the authors are content to include George McDonald as a ‘noteworthy evangelical’ (p. 187). Other omissions (even from the appendix) include evangelical convictions regarding war and pacifism, regarding divorce and remarriage, and regarding tithing.

That said, Across the Spectrum is a really useful introductory volume for the student, and a helpful model for the teacher, proving again that what we call ‘evangelical theology’ is kaleidoscopic, versatile and diversiform.

One comment

  1. Thanks for your informative and worthwhile blog. I recently obtained Dave MacPherson’s 300-pg book “The Rapture Plot” from Armageddon Books – and it’s worth the cost because it drowns up with little known and long covered up documentation relative to the short history of the British-invented 19th century escapism known as the “pre-tribulational rapture.” Among his various web items is one entitled “Scholars Weigh My Research” (reactions from leading scholars to his research). I can heartily recommend this unique volume – but dare not reveal the name of the plotter who cleverly pulled off the “mother of all revisionisms,” as MacPherson terms it. Flo


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