Because we live in a time of change and upheaval in our culture, Anthony G. Siegrist argues that the church needs to improve its biblical and theological literacy, writing, “It’s important that Christian communities nurture their ability to speak about God, about Scripture, and about our lives with care and attention.”
He offers Speaking of God as an overview of how the Christian church has approached Scripture and humanity’s relationship to God over the past 2,000 years.
Siegrist, the pastor of Ottawa Mennonite Church, explores some profound questions. He wonders why we assume that positive messages from the Prophet Jeremiah apply to us today, but not the negative ones. He asks what makes one interpretation of the Bible right and another wrong. He outlines various theological points of view on age-old questions such as whether God can have regret and whether the future is fixed and determined by God. He doesn’t provide answers so much as explore the mysteries of God and writes that “truth and mystery are swirled together” like the colours on a seashell.
The chapters of Speaking of God generally follow the outline of the Bible as the story of God’s people. The chapter titles refer to major themes of the Old Testament following the basic storyline of creation, fall, patriarchs, slavery, deliverance, a desire for a king, and prophets; and New Testament themes of incarnation, Jesus’ teachings, atonement and experiences of the early church. Within this framework, Siegrist explores and summarizes some of the major topics of Christian systematic theology, introducing prominent theologians and debates in the Christian church over the past two millennia.
Common theological terms such as “Christocentrism,” “Calvinism” or “eschatology” are in bold print, which helps the reader identify these doctrines or sets of ideas. In each case, Siegrist provides a simple explanation of the term, making it accessible for readers without a background in theology.
As indicated by the subtitle, Siegrist is trying to explore the entirety of Christian thought and he covers a wide variety of theologians and ideas. This can be very helpful for readers who are looking for an introduction and a place to find simple explanations of terms, but the vast array of theological terms could be somewhat overwhelming for a layperson.
In her blurb recommending the book, Carol Penner says, “When you finish this book, your mind will be dancing with new words and ideas about faith and God.”
While I found that to be true, it felt as though there were a few too many ideas dancing about in my mind. The way the book is structured did not seem to help organize the many theological terms.
At the same time, Speaking of God provides a good source for the basics of theology. As I look back on my student days, this book would have been a helpful tool to avoid some embarrassing moments when my ignorance was laid bare. Lay readers should concentrate on what they can understand and try not to get overwhelmed by the details. The personal anecdotes about Siegrist’s experiences in studying theology provide interesting interludes.
Siegrist sees the Bible as foundational to Christianity and he approaches it with great respect. At the same time, he believes it needs to be understood with some fluidity and imagination, arguing that it is wrong to see faith and reason as opposed to each other: “Faith is living into a view of the world tinted by Paul’s darkened glass.”
The book is written with honesty and never shies away from tough questions.
Read "Prayer and the lumberjack," an excerpt from Speaking of God, at canadianmennonite.org/blog/as-prayer.
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