“How to Think Theologically” Book Review

Book Review: “How to Think Theologically” by Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2006).

by David Tillman – October 2011
Paper for Writing Class – United Theological Seminary, MN

     In How to Think Theologically, Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke present a well thought out framework for theological reflection in today’s world. They tell us, “Chances are, you are a theologian.” By practicing a religion or have an interest in your spiritual life you think theologically. As Christians “their faith makes them theologians” and “calls them to become the best theologians they can become.”

     This book is written for those that are new to theological thinking and reflection and is ideal for first year theology and seminary students. For more seasoned theologians this will help bring a renewed awareness to their process of theological understanding and offer practical tools to enhance their theological reflection.

     Stone brings to the readers his understanding of psychology and pastoral counseling as a professor emeritus at Brite Divinity School. Duke brings his analytical and translation work as a professor of History of Christianity and Historical Theology, also at Brite Divinity School. Together they give us a practical process or framework in which to think theologically in today’s world. 

     The author’s start out defining theological reflection as “faith seeking understanding” They state that in the process of understanding our faith each person does theology differently which can be quite simple, to being very complex. Our Christian faith varies from person to person as it encompasses all that each of us learns from our denomination, congregation, and the world we are living in at the time.

     Stone and Duke begins creating a useful framework of theological reflection from two places of understanding; first our embedded theology and secondly from our deliberate theology. Our embedded theology are the words and practices we have learned from our church and family that shapes our conversations and practices in our daily lives. Deliberate theology examines alternative understandings to help reformulate our embedded theology “as clearly and coherently as possible.” The authors form a good argument that deliberate theology is vital “to keep the church honest,” to keep “faithful to the Gospel in each new age,” and “carries us forward when our embedded theology proves inadequate.”

     This straightforward and well-constructed framework for theological reflection continues to be developed, throughout the book. The authors develop the concepts of theological understanding through interpreting, correlating and accessing Christian faith. It was very helpful to learn about the theological template that helps us categorize and organize our Christian faith. Other templates help us examine and organize scripture, tradition, reason and experience. These are very practical tools to use in our process of theological learning and reflection.

     The authors continue to define the theological reflection framework through the theological method of looking at the big picture and its interconnectedness along with linear and cognitive thinking used in the process of analyzing, comparing and judging. One is then brought into the greater understanding of theological reflection when taking what we have already previously read and then begin to overlay this framework over three areas: in the light of the Gospel, in terms of human condition and the implications of Christian vocation. We learn in our process of theological reflection that it requires us to “Listen, Attend, Wait, Receive.” Our theological understanding grows from a variety of activities we do, some of them requires standing back to see it from another view or angle.       

     Stone and Duke did warn us that “If we lose touch with our base — our living sense of the love of God, the grace of Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit — our efforts at theological reflection turn into make-work or a mere hobby.” This is a powerful statement as we continue to reformulate our embedded theology by examining alternative understanding through our deliberate theology. The author’s gives us a greater understanding, framework, resources and tools as we do deliberate theology that will keep us faithful to the Gospel as we live in the world.  

     It will be helpful for all Christians, along with others following a non-Christian spiritual path, to read How to Think Theologically. This is not only to be read when being introduced to theological thinking for the first time, but also provides value to the reader to reread, from time to time, to bring one’s awareness back to the basics of theological thinking and reflection. In doing so, as Stone and Duke state: “As Christians and therefore theologians, we are called to listen and question, to forge an ever-growing understanding of the meaning of the Christian message of God, and to act on it in our lives, in the church, and in the world.”

© David Tillman, October 2011, rev. August 2020, all rights reserved. www.lifesjourney.us