People have all sorts of different college experiences. Some party. Some make lifelong friends. Some lose themselves in obscure political causes. But me? I spent a disproportionate period of my higher education lugging around Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, a nigh-thirteen-hundred-page tome that I eventually came to call The Big Blue Doorstop. My family’s denominational heritage was … diffuse, and I’d never really dug down into the marrow of the Christian faith. Thanks to the urging of a kindly philosophy professor, I decided to do just that. Theology geeks seem to like to turn up their noses at The Big Blue Doorstop, dismissing it as an “entry-level work” and quibbling over some of its conclusions. Indeed, I found more than one thing with which I disagreed. But The Big Blue Doorstop opened an entire new world up to me, a world where the things of God intersected with the mind as well as the emotions, a world where deep challenges met with deeper answers. I loved it. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I learned that pastor Marty Machowski had released his own systematic entitled The Ology: Ancient Truths, Ever New—and that it was intended for children.
For those unfamiliar with the odd subgenre of systematic theology, understand that it seeks to sift all of the bits and bobs scattered across the breadth of the Bible into neat topical piles. The attributes of God. The nature of Christ. The doctrine of revelation. Soteriology. Pneumatology. Ecclesiology. You get the idea. Every subject gets its own section, and reader can skip from one to another on a whim. The Ology maintains such divisions, simply giving them more readable names such as “The Ology of People,” “The Ology of the Promise and the Law,” and “The Ology of Adoption into God’s Family.” (Machowski gets a lot of mileage out of the titular pun.) And the book doesn’t forget its target audience, bracketing all of the propositional stuff with the tale of Carla and Timothy, a pair of adventuresome kiddos who venture into a long-abandoned church. Inside they find an ancient tome filled with nigh-indecipherable lettering. An accompanying note explains that the volume is about “the study of God,” but laments that, “sadly, after many years, … parents and children began to think the truths [therein] were old-fashioned and out of date.” Only then do Carla and Timothy notice that the archaic writing has started to shift of its own accord into entirely more readable lettering … I’ll admit to feeling a little thrill of delight when, at this point in family reading time, my seven year old looked over and said, “Well? Can we keep going?
We could indeed and did, and that little framing story carried us through 71 separate chapters, an impressive number for an adult, let alone a young child. Fortunately, Machowski writes in an easy, readable style and accompanies every entry with finely detailed, naturalistic pencil drawings. A cornucopia of bananas, pineapples, and plums illustrates the mandate to be fruitful and multiply. A fissured dam represents God holding back his wrath on humanity’s sin à la Romans 3:25-26. A group of children piled pyramid style on one another’s backs shows how the church is built of living stones. What’s more, The Ology couches its teachings in equally accessible doctrinal expressions. Our family currently worships with a Calvinist congregation and is almost entirely in agreement with the book’s conclusions, but I suspect a broad cross section of Protestantism would find it useful, no matter if your particular strains issues from Louisville or Los Angeles, St. Paul or Wilmore. The Ology majors in essentials for all ages.
(Picture: Copyright 2015 by Andy McGuire; used under fair use)