Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 03/25/2008 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. The big theological terms of the Bible spelled out in easy-to-understand language.
In my capacity as book ministry overseer at my church, I am always on the lookout for books that put the cookies on the bottom shelf, so to speak. In fact, I had used this phrase many times before I came across Peter Jeffery’s theology primer Bitesize Theology, whose introduction expresses Jeffery’s hope “that the ‘cookies’ in this book will be accessible to all believers, and that the truths they convey will feed their minds with the riches of God’s grace and nourish their hearts with a greater knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Interestingly, Jeffery’s slim volume isn’t the first theology primer that claims to put the cookies on the bottom shelf. The back cover of J.I. Packer’s Concise Theology asks wistfully “If only someone could explain the essentials of theology in bite-size portions.” Perhaps Mr. Jeffery didn’t think Dr. Packer didn’t do enough to lower the level of the cookies, and I would agree. Whereas Bitesize Theology explores 18 important terms, Concise Theology offers 94 word studies – hardly a bite-size volume. Also interesting is the recent release of another theology primer by Packer entitled 18 Words. Coincidence?
The more important distinction between Packer’s and Jeffery’s books lies in their selection of terms. Whereas Packer casts his net wide, defining extra-biblical terms such as “session” (Jesus’ reign in heaven) and “enterprise” (Christian living to please God), Jeffery relegates himself to eighteen core terms directly related to God’s saving activity through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. By the end of the book, not only had I sharpened my understanding of key theological terms, I felt as if I had heard the gospel presented simply, clearly, and articulately.
Comparisons aside, this book stands on its own merits. Now in its sixth print run, it obviously fills a niche in evangelical literature. Each bite-size chapter features an introduction to the term under consideration, followed by a few paragraph-length sections which tease out major aspects of the term. The chapters end with review questions and a quote from an author-theologian other than Jeffery. Of course, in such a short space as 100 small pages, not all concepts can be perfectly nuanced. For example, in the section on the Holy Spirit Jeffery says, “The reason we need saving is the terrible hold that sin has on all of us. God’s plan for our salvation did not break that power of sin; Jesus dying on the cross was crucial if that power was to be broken; but it was not enough.” Entire books have not exhausted this topic, so it’s unsurprising that Jeffery paints in broad strokes. But in Jeffery’s hands, bite-sized does not mean minimized. Even in a brief four-page treatment, the doctrine of is not underplayed or given short shrift. In the space of only one page, Jeffery makes the following strong statements:
“We need to understand Genesis 3 if we are to understand the gospel. Everything that follows in the Bible does so as a consequence of the events that took place in the Garden of Eden.”
“Underlying all the actions of Jesus and all the teaching of the New Testament is the fact of human sin and the doctrine of the fall of man.”
“Whilst it is clear from Genesis 3 that Satan is behind sin, this does not excuse us nor does it remove our responsibility for our actions.”
And my favorite quote from this section:
“God, who is utterly and completely holy, cannot regard evil and good as the same. He cannot smile benevolently upon both truth and lies. So God’s holiness makes hell as inevitable as his love makes heaven.”
It may be cliché, but this book is both doctrinal and devotional. Jeffery uses Scripture not merely for definition purposes, but in its self-authenticating capacity as the source of truth. This book does not simply present abstract theology, but presents the gospel and engages cultural and societal realities. As such, it is not only a helpful guide for the new Christian but a useful refresher for the seasoned Christian.