Theology can be treacherous land on which a believer navigates. There are jungles, and deserts, dark forests and remote islands. When we set out on a journey of theological terrains, it is advisable to be equipped with a trusty guide. Jim Sawyer has provided us with this in his latest book "The Survivors Guide to Theology".
Just before one begins their journey to far off theological lands, Sawyer challenges the reader to understand the job requirements of the theologian. He explains the three primary roles of the theologian as being that of a guardian (of truth) a scientist/explorer (of the information) and a contextualizer (translator of ancient truth to a contemporary culture). Once these things are mapped out, the journey can begin. And begin it does...
First Sawyer takes us into the potentially threatening place of Epistemology in his chapter entitled "How Do We Know". Epistemology can become a dark jungle filled with tangled vines of question marks and beds of quicksand which the believer can easily sink while looking for answers. Sawyer carefully prunes back the vines and clears the path so the traveler may walk freely down the trail in his quest for truth and knowledge. He brings light and clarity to what often times is a very dark place. From there he then addresses sources of theology; what could be an arid desert Sawyer turns in to an oasis of whimsical analogies and scholarly insight.
Further on, Sawyer leads the reader into the forest of theological traditions. So often we believers can not see this forest for the trees. However, in this book, Sawyer provides us an aerial view. Perching on the treetop that is the present the reader can then look down on the forest of the nearly 2000 years of church history. Sawyer is a well informed guide mapping out each winding path of tradition (from Eastern Orthodox, to Lutheranism, to Neo-Orthodoxy et al). While doing so he is accurate, irenic and balanced. Critiques of traditions offered up after each section, are done in an equally informed, honest and peaceable fashion.
A most useful tool for the believer on a theological journey is what Sawyer gives us at the end of his book; a deep well filled with philosophical and theological terms and well rounded biographies of key theologians in church history. When traveling to these different lands, it is handy to have a reference guide to help us communicate the language of theology. This section on "Significant People and Terms" is just that.
Before we begin any theological trek we should have the appropriate gear for our venture; a map, a compass, and nourishment. Jim Sawyer supplies this and much, much more in his book "The Survivors Guide to Theology".