June 30, 2014

Review: The Moody Handbook of Theology

Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology, revised edition (Moody, 2014), 809 pp.


In The Moody Handbook of Theology, author Paul Enns attempts to provide a comprehensive introduction to theological studies that is useful to pastors and seminarians while still being accessible to the average layman.

The book is split into five parts covering the following topics: biblical theology, systematic theology, historical theology, dogmatic theology, and contemporary theology. Part 1, in addition to covering the sub-disciplines of Old Testament Theology and New Testament Theology, follows the progressive unfolding of the themes of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Part 2 covers all the standard loci of systematics. Part 3 traces the development of theology throughout the history of the church. Part 4 deals with competing theological systems (Calvinism vs. Arminianism, Covenant Theology vs. Dispensationalism, Roman Catholicism) while part 5 covers various movements and developments in the field (liberalism, neoorthodoxy, postmodernism, feminism, etc.). This is quite a feat. I am unaware of any other single volume that manages to cover this much ground. For this reason alone, the MHoT is a valuable resource. The book's value is only increased by the glossary, the many charts, and the lists of recommended reading featured at the end of each chapter.

Although the handbook is quite helpful overall, some sections are stronger than others. Part 1 (Biblical Theology) in particular, is in need of a major update. No serious discussion of recent developments in biblical theology can be complete without even mentioning the works of Graeme Goldsworthy, James Hamilton, or G. K. Beale.

Part 2 (Systematic Theology) covers the major positions on each topic well, but Enns does occasionally argue in favor of one view over another. The overall perspective from which he writes is that of a moderately Calvinistic Dispensationalist. This may be viewed as either a strength or a weakness depending on whether or not his views are shared by the reader. This reviewer, for example, appreciated the author's arguments in favor of unconditional election (p. 342) while finding his arguments against limited atonement utterly unpersuasive (p. 341). I could nitpick and point out other places where Enns has given traditional Reformed theology the short shrift, but I won't. As a covenantal, amillennial, 5-Point Calvinist, there is more here that I agree with than I disagree with.

Parts 3 and 4 are helpful, but I wonder if perhaps the material in part 4 (Dogmatic Theology) could have been integrated into part 2 (Systematic Theology). Though Enns argues for a distinction between dogmatics and systematics (pp. 505-506), I remain unconvinced. Part 5 seems to serve as a sort of catch-all where Enns manages to cover all the major topics/developments that didn't quite fit into parts 2-4. The variety of topics covered in part 5 greatly adds to the usefulness of an already helpful reference work.

In a book like this, one is certainly bound to find a few things with which he disagrees. This reviewer certainly did. Also, there is little hope that a book this size which covers such a wide range of topics will deal with them all adequately. However, despite these shortcomings, the MHoT  remains a useful resource for the theological student or interested layman. Recommended.

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