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Christianity as a Way of Life: A Systematic Theology

"[Kevin W.] Hector makes complicated ideas feel more familiar, covering abstract and complicated debates within Christian theology in a way that even those new to the conversation can understand," writes Samuel McCann.

Kevin W. Hector
Yale University Press, 328 pages
Published September 5, 2023

Christianity as a Way of Life: A Systematic Theology is an ambitious book. Kevin Hector describes the practices that help Christians conform their lives to their stated goal: being dedicated followers of Christ. He supports his description with rigorous theological reflection in the form of a redemptive narrative (beginning with the condition of being trapped by the ways of the world and moving through to a reorientation towards the ways of God). This work should not be seen as a sociological or anthropological recounting of Christianity, but a thoroughly theological one, or “what Christianity is supposed to look like,” as Hector writes.

He opens with a brief apologia for the good of theology within the secular academy, which – as a University of Chicago professor teaching both theology and philosophy of religion – Hector understands. While this opening chapter does detract from the overall cohesion of the book, he acknowledges that those outside of the academy might be better served starting with chapter two.

Hector’s impressive knowledge of a wide variety of theological and philosophical perspectives allows him to tackle such a gargantuan project. He demonstrates a real generosity in his thinking, taking critiques of traditional Christian formulations seriously without rashly abandoning the inherited wisdom of the Christian tradition. This generosity was particularly helpful as he ventured into thorny questions such as love (Is Christian love always self-sacrificial?), forgiveness (Does forgiveness free wrongdoers from punishment?), and confession (How do we reckon with the shame often tied to Christianity?). This also allowed him to fruitfully engage secular critiques or suspicions of Christianity. When dealing with philosophical critiques of eternal life, Hector renders these arguments charitably while countering with a compelling theological argument.

Hector makes complicated ideas feel more familiar, covering abstract and complicated debates within Christian theology in a way that even those new to the conversation can understand. This clarity helps demonstrate what’s at stake even with abstract questions. For example, he not only explains three different models of the atonement but articulates an understanding that simultaneously refuses to reduce Christ to his death and emphasizes the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection for us today. However unconventional, this book is still a systematic theology which seeks to describe the Trinity, Christology and similar doctrines; by connecting doctrine with practice, he shows why theology matters.

As I was reading it, Hector’s book was regularly in the background of my mind while I carried out my own Christian practices, prompting greater intention on my part. I walked into church more aware of the ways in which I was being formed and drawn deeper into community through communal singing. I was reminded of the significance of prayer and found myself sneaking away to find more moments to bring my concerns before God. I felt the weight of my friendships and found myself reflecting on the ways my friends have often provided me a differing perspective of myself. While this is certainly a scholarly work, it possesses a peculiar devotional quality that enlivened my daily and weekly practices and allowed a sense of gratitude and hope to settle in my heart.

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