M. James Sawyer (PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary) has taught Theology, Church History and Historical Theology for nearly twenty-five years. He currently serves as Professor of Theology at A.W. Tozer Seminary in Redding, California and as Director of 'Sacred Saga' ministries (SacredSaga.org).
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This is for the layperson Mar 21, 2007
"Survivor's Guide" provides an incredible overview of what theology is and why I should care. It offers an overview of so many of the major issues that have been struggled over, including those that are still debated today, and it does so without getting bogged down in details. If I want details, Dr. Sawyer has provided a bibliography at the end of every chapter that points me to more resources. There is also a brief (1/3 - 1/2 page) biography on lots of important figures in church history, plus a dictionary (37 pages) of terms. I couldn't ask for a better book to get me started!
Definitely a good book for someone without a seminary degree (like me).
Take the next step in theological inquiry... Jan 23, 2007
When conservative Christians theologize, the words used to describe God are often unfamiliar (lots of "omni-'" and "-ological" words) and the tone can be smug. Then, if the listener is knowledgeable enough to challenge the speaker with the insights of post-modernism, or Thomas Kuhn's thoughts on scientific paradigms, or Karl Barth's beliefs about the nature of the Word of God, the conversation often ceases. Comfortable in the assumptions and language of Enlightenment thinking, conservative theology is too often unaware of these more current trends in thought.
Dr. Sawyer's book The Survivor's Guide to Theology provides a primer for those wishing to interact with these newer realities while maintaining the historical truths of Christianity. The first six chapters and Appendix 1 should be required reading for all people who wish to speak thoughtfully about God and the Bible. Within these chapters we are confronted with discussions about epistemology, the sources that should inform our assertions about God, the tendency of theologians to become locked into old paradigms, and a suggested methodology for answering theological questions.
Add to this foundation the survey of major theological systems, important theologians, and a dictionary of theological terms, and this book prepares the reader to interact with the present after understanding the past. Dr. Sawyer's degree in Historical Theology informs these sections with a concise directness that helps the reader quickly understand the vocabulary and background of theological inquiry.
This book is not for those who wish to protect their current understanding of God, humanity, and salvation. It is a call to the uncomfortable task of wrestling with God as Jacob did. Finding that we cannot win the fight by completely understanding these issues, we nonetheless receive blessing in the process. It is, in my opinion, a valuable companion to anyone wanting to grow as a Christian thinker who takes the Bible seriously.
A must-have . . . . Oct 24, 2006
The Survivor's Guide to Theology By M. James Sawyer
For anyone desiring to get their arms around the concept of "theology," Jim Sawyer's The Survivor's Guide to Theology is a must-have. Beginning with a brief overview of what it means to be a theologian, Dr. Sawyer walks the reader quickly, yet thoroughly, through the maze of epistemology, sources and authority in theology, and doctrinal taxonomy, to a hardening of the categories of theology and why theologians seemingly "oppose" new knowledge. He concludes the opening half of his Guide with a short review of the many divisions of theological study.
The second half of Sawyer's Survivor's Guide focuses on nine (9) different theological systems--from Eastern Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism to Lutheranism to the Reformed Tradition (i.e., Calvinism) to Wesleyan-Arminian Theology to Dispensationalism to Liberalism to Neo-Orthodoxy concluding with a discussion on Liberation Theology. Throughout his discussion of these nine traditions, Dr. Sawyer presents a very fair, accurate and well-balanced discussion of each theological system--all in an irenic manner that so characterizes this very capable and well-respected scholar.
Dr. Sawyer concludes his Survivor's Guide with a short presentation of significant theological and philosophical terms, as well as a section of biographical sketches of major theologians and philosophers. This allows the reader to walk away with a true sense of accomplishment in grasping the critical issues associated with the study of theology, an understanding of the key Christian theological systems and traditions co-existing in the world today, and a useful understanding of the theologians who helped shape and define those systems and traditions throughout church history.
The Survivor's Guide to Theology by M. James Sawyer should be included in the personal library of every serious student of Christianity. Personally, I find my well-worn copy of the Survivor's Guide sitting on my desktop far more often than I find it on the shelf. I believe you will also.
Balanced Point of View Oct 16, 2006
Dr. Sawyer's attitude toward theology is a circumspect one; he doesn't say, "I'm right, and here's why." He is refreshingly aware of his own human ability to err and the need for accountability. With this in mind, he takes the reader "above the fray" allowing the reader to actually view this subject with what is, in my opinion, some genuine objectivity. Objectivity is pretty hard to come by in lots of fields, but especially in an emotionally charged subject like theology. In short, I appreciate the humble and objective tone of the book.
Also, Dr. Sawyer is a good writer. His prose is lucid and clear. He sticks to the point. As a layman, I appreciate having access to this introductory material on epistemology, the philosophical underpinnings of theology, the different denomination, bios of famous theologians, and a great bibliography in the back!! I personally just really like this book.
A standard for beginning students of theology Sep 13, 2006
Dr. Sawyer's Survivor's Guide to Theology fills a much needed gap as an introductory text in theology. More specifically, his work is an excellent introduction to what is known as theological prolegomena, which examines the essential prerequisites to the study of theology. He explores such critical issues as epistemology (the theory of knowledge), tradition, authority structures, the importance of theology for the believer and church, the role of worldview in how we view and explain reality, and the difference between what I would call primary and secondary doctrines (taxonomy). Other strengths of Dr. Sawyer's work include a very good overview of the major theological systems such as orthodoxy, Catholicism, Reformed theology(to name a few), a helpful glossary, and fine bibliography for further study. For pastors desiring to teach theology to interested lay people, this is an outstanding resource to use. Students beginning their study of theology either in a Christian college or seminary will find this work very helpful. The study of theology is indeed a spiritual discipline, and Dr. Sawyer's passion for seeing Christians and the church engage in a serious study of theology in order to ensure doctrinal purity and spiritual health is infectious. This is a text I will definitely be using in my own preaching and teaching ministry.