Essential Theology: the story behind the book

Added about 5 years ago by Mark Philps

Mark Philps's Kingdom Come is “an intelligent and fresh exposition of what the Christian faith is” – and it is out now. How did the author come to write the book like this?

The origins of my book go back a long way in my life. Some of the questions it addresses have been with me since I came to faith at the age of 19. Other questions arose during the course of my experience of leadership in parish ministry. In that sense, this is my attempt at writing the book I would have liked to have in my hands all those years ago when I began to study theology and then started out on professional Christian ministry. It is written in the spirit of Anselm of Canterbury: fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding).

The fact that the book originates in questions I have wrestled with personally accounts for the topics it addresses and gives it a particular kind of unity. This is a unity founded not on seeking answers to abstract theoretical questions: how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Rather it is the unity of seeking theological answers to questions which impact how we proclaim, teach and practise Christian faith. For instance, I was taught, and for a long time I believed, that Christian hope is the hope of heaven. I was never quite satisfied with that idea, and eventually I discovered that it is a desperately truncated version of Christian hope, which in fact is hope for what Jesus called “the renewal of all things”. This is not in the ordinary sense a practical question. It's not the answer to how to organise your church's small groups, or what time the morning service should start, or how to motivate church members to give properly. But it is a question with enormous practical implications about how we proclaim the faith to unbelievers and how we teach and live that faith. If I get up in the morning believing that one day God will renew the whole cosmos, ridding it of everything that currently spoils it, that will make a difference to the way I live that day. If I get up in the morning believing that God is going to whisk me off to heaven when I die and one day ditch this world entirely—end of story, that will make a different sort of difference to the way I live that day. These are deeply practical issues.

The book does indeed address issues which have profound practical implications. But the issues have to be tackled theologically. Two things follow from that. In the first place, it means that there has to be serious engagement with the text of Scripture, which may in itself involve some quite complex discussion, and beyond that serious engagement with what some of the great Christian thinkers of the past have taught on these things. The result is that some of the chapters in my book make significant demands on the reader; this is particularly true of the chapters on Covenant and on Christology, but I have tried to make these as comprehensible and digestible as possible. I have also included at the end of each chapter some reflections on the content of the chapter which draw out some of the practical implications. The second thing which follows from tackling issues theologically is that some readers will find themselves challenged to rethink some long-held and quite likely deeply-held convictions. I belong to the Church of England which in turn belongs to the Reformation tradition. A core belief of that tradition is that the church needs always to be open to fresh understanding of the Word of God and to reforming its life accordingly.

One of the key influences in my journey of faith and of church leadership has been charismatic renewal, and that influence is reflected in the content of several of the chapters. I think I might have been a better charismatic if I had known forty years ago some of the things I have learnt since—hence the wish I've already expressed, that my book had been available when I started out on this journey. The book seeks both to challenge charismatics to rethink some cherished ideas about spiritual gifts and to defend charismatic renewal against those who think it is a delusion and a distraction from authentic Christian life and ministry.

Books have been a key ingredient in my journey of faith, which may be one reason why I have written this one. I well remember the day during my first year at university when I picked up a copy of C. S. Lewis' book Miracles. I had become seriously confused by what I was being told about Christianity and the meaning of conversion, but reading Lewis transported me into a world of logic, luminous clarity and joy. In due course I went on to read everything by Lewis that I could lay my hands on and I have drawn on Lewis's writing at some key points in the book. The other author whose work (much later) became very influential for my thinking is N. T. Wright. Wright is not necessarily always right—in fact he tells his students that some of what he teaches is almost certainly wrong—the problem is he doesn't know which bits are wrong and which are right. However, like Lewis, Wright shines light in dark places, particularly in some of the dark places of New Testament scholarship. He has enabled us to read the Gospels and Paul with fresh eyes, demonstrating how both make much better and clearer sense than has often been thought and taught in the world of academic theology. Lewis and Wright share the virtue of being amazingly readable, even when dealing with complex subject matter. Making use of some of their ideas is in part a way of discharging a debt of gratitude.

Kingdom Come: Essential Theology for the Twenty-first Century makes essential theological topics relevant and readable without diluting the Gospel message, drawing on the work of numerous thinkers. This book is essential reading for anyone in, or training for, church leadership: clergy, pastors, students, ordinands, preachers, and teachers. Get your copy today for just £9.99. Just received a lovely new tablet or e-reader for Christmas? Try reading Kingdom Come as an e-book instead.

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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