One of my favorite books of 2013 was Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction. The first edition was arranged in a form conducive to its gospel-centered ethos, and on display in the writing was Bird’s global sensibility, trademark humor, and Reformed scholarship in conversation with other traditions. I appreciated Bird’s approach, his way of breaking down challenging concepts for the uninitiated reader of systematic theology, and the care he gave to opposing viewpoints.
A second edition of Evangelical Theology is now available, and—similar to what I did with Millard Erickson’s third edition of Christian Theology, still my go-to for systematics—I’d like to point out what Bird has chosen to revise.
What’s new with the revised Evangelical Theology? To start, it’s expanded. The new edition includes 970 pages plus 34 pages of introductory material, giving an increase of about 100 pages. The font is a tad larger and may have something to do with the book’s thickness, since some sections have been shortened as well.
All the chapters and major sections are the same as in the first volume, although some of the sub-points are rearranged or retitled, maintaining the same creative, gospel-centered structure as before. Bird has also incorporated a broader group of conversation partners throughout the work—more female and non-white theologians, thinkers from the Global South, and a more robust consideration and contrast with Catholic scholars.
Here are a few of the areas most expanded:
- Bird’s prolegomena delves more deeply into postmodernism and the concept of a “grand narrative” and how it affects our hermeneutics. He offers more rationale for making the gospel his starting point and shows how it influences the work of theology.
- Bird has beefed up his work on the sources of theology, offering a thicker discussion of tradition and nature. He gives more in-depth treatment to the development of doctrine and theology, while interacting with evangelical and Catholic views of tradition. He introduces a section on the history of Catholic, Orthodox, and evangelical methods of theology.
- In his chapter on God, Bird significantly expands his treatment on the Trinity: the biblical roots of the doctrine, the confessions of faith, and the history and development of Trinitarian thought. He also addresses social Trinitarianism and the debate over eternal functional subordination in greater detail.
- Bird adds “nearness and access to God” as one of the dominant images of salvation. This aligns with the additional attention he gives to the Holy Spirit and how he engages with the Pentecostal movement. He devotes more space to theories of scriptural inspiration and offers more explanation for his preference for the dynamic theory.
- As he unpacks the doctrine of humanity, Bird adds several pages to how we conceive our personal identity, how identity is connected to gender and sex, as well as the reality of the imago Dei among the disabled. In his ecclesiology, he gives more attention to the rise of multisite churches.
What’s gone from this new version? Not much. Bird has removed some of the interaction with people who reflected evangelical conversation and controversy in 2013 (Rob Bell, for example, on the nature of hell). He has deleted a couple of the lesser debates he once dubbed “ecclesiology in contention” (the kingdom of God vs. the church, and the visible vs. the invisible church). He also removed the epilogue that laid out urgent tasks for evangelical theology in the 21st century.
Overall, the second edition of Evangelical Theology preserves everything that made the first edition so popular—an irenic, careful examination of key Christian truths within a gospel-centered framework, peppered with Bird’s humor. I trust the new edition will remain a resource to be consulted by students, professors, and pastors.