One of Michael Bauman's central contentions in Pilgrim Theology is one that only those against whom it is aimed would argue: too often, theologians base their ideas on dogma handed to them by their teachers, their traditions, or their personal prejudices. He differentiates two kinds of theologians, Fortress Theologians and Pilgrim Theologians, the former being those who erect walls from which they will not budge and the latter being those who are ever seeking the Lord and knowledge of Him.
Bauman wants his readers to become the second type. A Pilgrim Theologian doesn't simply figure out what he believes (or accept the doctrines handed to him unquestioningly), he understands that he will never have perfect knowledge in this life, and yet he strives for it without giving up. What is our guide in this? Bauman answers that it is the Word of God, the Bible, that leads us into all truth, though he also strongly cautions that our ideas derived from Scripture are not equal to Scripture.
Not all of Bauman's assertions are plain, however. For instance, he tells us that Scripture is our final authority in matters theological and that our opinions do not equal sound doctrine, but he also claims that our primary tool for interpretation is our own human reason. At other times he's somewhat vague, as when he tells us that our theology is more like a journey and less like a walled city, but cautions us against accepting paradox and urges us to wrestle with issues till we figure them out.
Pilgrim Theology is intended for beginning theology students, and has been used by Bauman in his own theology classes that he teaches at Hillsdale College. While the students of that institution are probably capable of keeping up with the author, this is a fairly challenging book. Bauman makes constant reference to concepts, philosophical ideas, and key thinkers without fully explaining their significance, assuming a measure of familiarity with the history of thought.
After four chapters on theological method (in which confessional theology and confessionalism are contrasted), the reader is given a more or less deconstructive introduction to key theological concerns and the various approaches to them. Bauman eschews systematic and dogmatic theology, and what he calls "theological incest" in which institutions of higher learning simply replicate doctrinal clones, and cries out over and over for radical biblicism.
This is an admirable goal, but is it possible? Bauman seems fairly Reformed, but his reliance on the individual's rational ability to discern and ascertain the truth seems to obviate at least a mild denial of total depravity (a doctrine that is both highly Reformed and highly biblical). Also, while he tells us often how NOT to do theology, we're given little framework for positively constructing our own beliefs.
Ultimately, this is a book that requires more discernment than most beginners will be able to exercise. Bauman affirms the orthodox Protestant line, challenges our presuppositions, encourages the strengthening of our exegetical abilities, and offers some important criticisms of systematic theology. But does his own methodology predispose new students toward a particular attitude? It undoubtedly does, and therefore we recommend this for older readers as a corrective and humbling admonition.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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