Practicing Christian Doctrine by Beth Felker Jones

Practicing Christian Doctrine by Beth Felker Jones cover imageSummary: Well-written intro to theology text.

I picked up Practicing Christian Doctrine because I had an audiobook credit that had to be used before it expired, and I remembered a good podcast interview with Beth Felker Jones and decided to see what else she had written. All of that is to say I was not looking for a theology textbook; I was looking for a book by Jones, and the one I found happened to be an Intro to Theology textbook.

My last seminary theology class was more than 25 years ago. I read Erickson for my undergrad systematic theology class. My seminary systematic theology class was with Dwight Hopkins, and we read Reinhold Neibhur, Delores S. Williams, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and I think James Cone (or I read James Cone on my own at the time, I can’t remember), among some others. Hopkins’ class was focused on reading theologians not summary textbooks. I wish I could take that class again because I would get a lot more out of it now than I did. I remember at the time learning about a lot of perspectives in theology that I had not been exposed to. But I also remember thinking that I was glad I had had an undergrad course in systematic theology because I needed that grounding to understand what the authors we were reading were responding to.

Practicing Christian Doctrine is exactly the type of systematic theology book I would recommend to someone who does not have a seminary background but is interested. I listened to it as an audiobook, which is probably not ideal for this type of book, but it was ideal for me. There are several things that I really liked about it. First, Jones cited widely throughout history and around the world. She also included a note about when and where the author being cited was from. That is a very small feature, but it really helped to note that background matters in how a person approaches theology.

Another important feature of a book of this type is that there was a wide range of perspectives discussed and the perspectives I felt were presented well. There are theology books that are written from a particular background, and assume that readers will agree with them. But this isn’t that type of book; this is an introductory textbook, and it needed to (and did) give a fair presentation to a range of thought. In many cases, undergraduate or seminary students using this book will not be familiar with the range of options on any given topic. They will be familiar with how their church understood a topic and not realize other options exist. That makes a fair presentation of the options even more important.

This may sound contradictory to the previous paragraph, but where there was a more clear perspective was the catholicity of the church. Jones made the case that the church is both diverse and unified in Christ. That is not to say that the church should be uniform, but that regardless of actions, the church is unified in Christ and should act like it. This came up in a number of places, but the chapter on escatology may have been the most clear presentation of the importance of the church’s unity.

Practicing Christian Doctrine is written as a textbook, but it is a well-written textbook that has value outside of just the academy. And if you are someone who does have an interest in theology and is looking for an intro, this is a good choice.

Practicing Christian Doctrine by Beth Felker Jones Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

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