Moody Handbook of Theology Review

Book Review: 

"That's why I am excited about this edition of The Moody Handbook of Theology, by Paul Enns. It is a wonderfully thorough, eminently readable, richly informative study of Christian theology. Whether you are a new believer or an accomplished seminary professor, I'm certain you will find this book an indispensable resource. Dr. Enns himself is someone who has never stopped growing and learning.

This new edition of his classic work is the finest yet. It's a wonderful remedy for the apathy and superficiality of the present age, and a helpful companion for the long journey toward that mature understanding of truth that Scripture urges us to pursue." (John MacArthur, pg. 12)

When I was a young fledgling Bible student, one of the most helpful resources I repeatedly turned to was a Bible Handbook. In that volume, every book of Scripture was given a specific chapter where the background information (author, setting, outline, etc.),a brief survey, and a number of helpful resources for further study. That single book helped me perhaps more than any other in my study of Scripture and it is one that I still use today.

There is an equally helpful book for young fledgling theology students as well and now the publisher (Moody) has published a revised and expanded edition of the book marking its 25th anniversary. The book is called The Moody Handbook of Theology and its author, Paul Enns, has penned a great resource that ought to at least be in every pastor's library.

The book (featuring a foreword from John MacArthur) is pretty straightforward. There are five sections that cover the major studies of theology. Those sections are (in order) biblical theology, systematic theology, historic theology, dogmatic theology, and contemporary theology. Each section begins with a general overview that defines the terms and sets the stage. From there, the author dedicates a chapter to the major issues under that particular section.

One word of clarification regarding terms. The difference between systematic theology and dogmatic theology is important. In the section regarding systematic theology, the author dedicates a chapter to particular loci of theology: theology proper, bibliology, anthropology, christology, eschatology, etc. (there is no prolegomena). Dogmatic theology, is a study of certain theological traditions. Here, the author discusses Roman Catholicism, dispensationalism, calvinism, arminianism, and covenant theology among others.

For the most part, the author provides a general overview of theology without engaging in more partisan theology apart from defining orthodoxy. With that said, it is clear why John MacArthur writes the foreword for the book. Enns strongly hints, and at times is clear, in his defense of reformed theology, cessationism, dispensationism, and young earth creationism. Perhaps a few examples will suffice.

Regarding young earth creationism, Enns writes:

"The days of creation are referred to as 'it was evening and it was morning,' suggesting twenty-four-hour days. The statements 'second day' and 'third day' also demand twenty-four-hour days. The creation account is a denial of any form of evolution." (43)[1]

Regarding dispensationalism, he writes:

"Paul deals with Israel's election in Romans 9-11, lamenting Israel's rejection of Messiah (Rom. 9:1-3; 10:1-5). Israel had great privileges but scorned them (Rom. 9:4-5), yet since God has sovereignly elected Israel, He will not fail in His purpose for the nation. The fact that God has not abandoned His people (Rom. 11:1) is evident by the fact that there is a remnant of believing Jews, of which Paul was one (Rom. 11:1, 5). However, while Israel has been blinded, it is temporary. Paul envisions a future day when Israel's blindness will be lifted and "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26). There will be a future national turning to Christ in faith. Paul relates that event to the return of Messiah: "The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob" (Rom. 11:26)." (116)

He later suggests that Peter in 1 Peter 1:13 implies the rapture.[2]

Regarding cessationism, Enns writes "Because the foundation of the church has been laid and the canon of Scripture is complete there is no need for the gift of prophecy." (285). He later adds:

The book of acts establishes that biblical tongues were languages (Acts 2:6, 8 11). . . .

Tongues of Acts and Corinthians were the same. . . .

"Tongues were a temporary sign gift (1 Cor. 13:8). The phrase "they will cease" is in the middle voice, emphasizing "they will stop themselves." The implication is that tongues would not continue until "the perfect comes" - the time when knowledge and prophecy gifts would be terminated - but would cease of their own accord when their usefulness terminated. If tongues were to continue until 'the perfect comes,' the verb would likely be passive in form." (286)

Regarding total depravity (for just one example of Reformed theology), Enns clearly states that "man is totally depraved" and "has an innate sin nature." (325)

There were a few theological problems I found in the book. First, Enns seems to deny the doctrine of inaugurated eschatology - that is, that the Kingdom of God is both here and now and then and there. In his study of eschatology in the Synoptics, Enns suggests "The King had been rejected by His subjects. As a result the kingdom would be held in abeyance."

In addition, the limitation of the book is that it is too short. Though standing at over 800 pages, the author surveys virtually every major theological issue and as a result must leave a number of important issues behind. A few that come to mind include monism and expiation. The opposite is equally true. The format of the book forces the author to discuss some of the same issues multiple times like Calvinism, Pelagianism, justification, etc.

Overall, however, this is an excellent book and I found myself unable to put it down. Though I am familiar with most of the material in the book, it rekindled my love for theology again. Every pastor, as I said above, ought to have this resource in their library and return to it often. It is assessable and easy to read. It is an invaluable resource.

[1] In a footnote in this same chapter, he adds, "Whenever the numeral appears with the Hebrew word yom (day) it demands a twenty-four-hour day." (46)
[2] Regarding Revelation, Enns writes "Although John does not provide an explicit statement concerning the rapture as does Paul, John undoubtedly refers to the rapture in John 14:1-3." (145) This is, without a doubt, one of the biggest problems with the pre-trib rapture.

This book was given to me for free for the purpose of this review.