I just noticed a new book coming out in November by Zondervan. It is going to be the latest edition to their wonderful “Counterpoints” series (which you should all get—every one of them!!).

However, I was somewhat disturbed by the title. I know, I know, authors are not to blame for titles. They may or may not have agreed with the title of the book. But I don’t really like it.

I have yet to read this book so this is not in any way an evaluation of the book. There will be many authors—wonderful authors—who will be discussing and taking various positions on the issue the book raises (which I am very pleased about). The book is titled “Four Views of Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology.” Being somewhat interested in theology, I thought that I would lodge my complaint before the book is even published (though I will get it and eat it up and think you should, too).

I am not sure why it is en vogue to talk about moving “beyond the Bible.” I am especially perplexed when “to theology” is added to the motion. A few years ago I. Howard Marshall wrote a book with similar title, Beyond the Bible: Moving from Scripture to Theology. I suppose that I am most concerned with the preposition “beyond.” I know what they are trying to do and this is the exact thing that our ministry supports. It is the idea of seeing the Bible as a foundation and guide for something else. In other words, the Bible and knowledge of the Bible is not the end. We must take the next step in applying the Bible in a systematic way both to our beliefs and our practice. I am game.

However, I don’t think that this movement to theology is a movement beyond the Bible. The synopsis from the book says, “Four Views on Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology guides students and pastors to consider and evaluate the various ways Christians apply biblical texts to contemporary questions.” This is better (but not perfect).

Let me cut to the chase and make my point before I turn this into too big of a deal. Theology is not about moving beyond the Bible any more than our development as children is about moving beyond our DNA. Theology and its application is about living out in both belief and practice what the Bible teaches. It is an outgrowth of truth and our primary source for spiritual knowledge is in the Bible. We don’t ever move beyond the Bible. We move with the Bible. I think that this is better, but still not perfect as we also move toward the Bible in our beliefs and practices. The implication that theology is somehow “beyond” Scripture can be a dangerous nuance on what theology is about.

Complaint lodged (now go pre-order the book).

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    8 replies to "Theology = Beyond the Bible?"

    • John

      Yep…I agree. Somehow it makes the Bible to take second chair to theology.

    • Required Name Here

      It’s like a court of law…objection noted.

    • Frank!

      Thanks for saying what so many of us probably thought when we saw that title. I’m sure there will be some interesting back and forth when it comes out, but what really bothers me is that as of late Zondervan has been moving in a trajectory (in terms of the kinds of books they have been publishing) that has been raising many eyebrows.

    • Craig

      As a disclaimer, I’ve been blog-stalking you all day (I googled “what does taking God’s name in vain really mean” and came across an article of yours) and have really loved everything I’ve read so far, up until this post (not that I dislike it, but I feel like you just opened up an important conversation even if it seemed like you’re splitting hairs). And I definitely relate to what you’re saying (at least I think I do); however, I have to ask:

      Why do we need the Bible at the foundation of our faith? Why does our faith need to be guided by the Bible?

      These questions are not rhetorical (they’re not to prove a point), but they are questions I’ve been mulling over lately, and I feel this is a safe place to ask them. Anyways, I feel like much of “Christian sub-culture” just assumes that we need the Bible at the foundation and doesn’t really offer up valid, logical reasoning as does it with a variety of other issues.

      I really look forward to reading your response, if you have time to give it.


    • j

      I think the titles are justified. There are plenty of things that the Bible doesn’t tell us that most systems of theology insist on telling us about. That is “beyond the Bible.” And you’ll almost never find a preacher who doesn’t go beyond the text on some points–especially in a narrative–to fill in emotions and ideas of characters or human authors. (e.g., How did Esther feel when she appeared before King Ahasuerus the first time? What was Vashti’s motivation for refusing to appear before him?) Again, much of this goes beyond what the biblical stories tell us.

      I guess I would think of the DNA illustration as one where the various theologies are the Bible’s children—they carry forward a lot of its DNA, but their own DNA is unique, a new but dependent development.

    • M. Operacz


      I’ll bet if you listed some name suggestions, Zondervan would reconsider the title! How about: ‘Theology – Understanding God!’ or ‘Theology – You Show Me Your Faith, I’ll Explain it to You!’

      I am sure you could come up with some better ones.

      Talk with you later.


    • John Wilson

      “Beyond the Bible” sounds horrendous, and so you judged the title; but how you took those two words is certainly not the intent of the book. In a nutshell, it is about finding answers to contemporary issues (and others, like The Trinity) which are not explicit in the Bible. The question is, How do you take what IS in the Bible to speak to things about which the Bible is silent or when what it says is culturally remote from a contemporary situation? Or to put it another way, everything written in the Bible was given in an historical context which is far removed from ours. Our lives are beyond that of the Bible; but the Bible can still speak beyond its culture into ours. How? That is what this book is fundamentally about. How are we to read the Bible–not in blind literalism with easy proof texts–but with deep understanding of its comprehensive teaching and principles and thoughtful insight from those for our situation in the 21st century.?

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