Ford attempts to do several things through his book: bridge the dichotomy between the study of theology and religion; equip the theologian to effectively dialogue with other disciplines; and bring theology into practical relevance in our postmodern global community, all towards the goal of enabling individuals to find the Christian God. According to Ford, theology is not for the theological institution or church alone. It’s a study that has the power to change you in the process, and therefore change the world around you.
Ford not only attempts to validate the integrity and responsibility of theology today. He goes even further by actually addressing the believer and the seeker about the character and responsibility of God. In this he goes further than Grenz and Olsen (Who Needs Theology?) in his attempt to understand the practical relevance and outworking of theological study. For example, he attempts to explain who God is and how one can find Him (according to Christian thought) and does so using the paradigm of relationship: God is “more intimate to you than you are to yourself; who longs to be found by you; who communicates abundantly through all sorts of signs in nature, in history, in scripture, and in your own experience… The basic secret of finding this God lies in beginning to trust that God is that kind of God. Trust opens up understanding.” [i]
In other words, Ford is not afraid of getting his feet muddy at the grass roots level and for endeavoring to bring the subject of God back as the central focus in theology. He caused me to think about people I know such as my brother and sister who have vague ideas about God and what God thinks about them. Or of my own father who grew up in an oppressive catholic environment in Ireland, or my mother who grew up during the Second World War. They just want to know, Is God real? How does He feel about them? How is faith relevant to their everyday lives? I love how Ford reminds us how God is busy ‘speaking’ to the hearts of individuals, drawing them to Himself. So when my sensitive nature-loving brother tells me that He understands God through scenery, I will now take him seriously and commend him for that. When my sister explains her belief in Shamanism and how it’s compatible with her New Age ideas about God, I will patiently explain what the Bible teaches and pray God will reveal the Truth to her heart. Ford tells me, the reader, that God can be sought and found however far from Him someone may currently be. I therefore found Ford both academic and reassuring in his writing, portraying himself as a writer who knows theology and more importantly, who personally knows God with a passion that others do too.
Ford deals with a number of practical considerations in this whole area of studying theology including hermeneutics, history, epistemology, the art of knowing, Jesus Christ, and so on. One other issue he talks about which I found fascinating is theological anthropology. If ever there were a time for intelligent dialogue on this subject, it is now. We in the West often forget that other cultures have completely different paradigms and worldviews than we do. Take human ethics for example. We protest loudly about the human violations in North Korea, and the lack of freedoms the citizens of that nation have to endure, but we fail to realize that North Korea is a complex and unique nation, which brought communist ideals into their already-existing Confucian framework. What that means is that in the average North Korean mind, the idea that a human is made in the image of God has never even entered their thinking. That all humans have equal value is far from their understanding. They have been educated to think otherwise: the lower classes must be sacrificed for the good of the elite as the famine of the 1990s painfully depicted. Other than the few underground believers who inherited a faith through the gospel that a few missionaries brought over a hundred plus years ago, they do not hold any other worldview. It’s completely foreign to them.
Then there’s China. Only now in recent years are Chinese academics beginning to understand that those nations that have prospered the most have done so not because of democracy or market forces, but because those nations were built upon Christian principles. [ii]That growing realization, combined with a large underground army of fervent Christian believers ready to take the gospel into the 10 / 40 window, make for an influential nation about to do great things on the global stage.
Ford does a wonderful job in applying an intellectual framework into the personal search of finding God. The theological subjects and skills that Ford provides are intensely practical and relevant, providing the means for such nations to seek after and find the Christian God who transforms lives and heals broken societies. As he rightly warns, theological pursuit should not be for the sake of knowledge or information alone, but in the wider pursuit of wisdom that brings meaning to daily life. [iii] The focus should be “building up communities whose ‘best practice’ of worship, forgiveness, faith, hope, and love is a sign that God, not evil, is the basic truth of life.” [iv] Our twenty first century world needs to hear this message. This is theology at its best.