Review: Theological English

prpbooks-images-covers-md-9781629956022Pierce Taylor Hibbs is associate director for theological curriculum and instruction in the Theological English Department at Westminster Theological Seminary. He has both a MAR and ThM from WTS and is the author of Finding God in the Ordinary and In Divine Company: Growing Closer to the God Who Speaks. Megan Reiley is Westminster Theological Seminary’s theological English instructor and an adjunct ESL instructor at the University of Pittsburgh. She also received and MA in Linguistics from the University of Pittsburgh. Together Hibbs and Reiley have written an important new textbook that invites students (especially students whose primary language is something other than English) to develop their English skills while actively putting them to use.

Theological English: An Advanced ESL Text for Students of Theology is both unique and timely. It’s rooted firmly in the Reformed theological tradition, and thus, the theology presented therein is unabashedly expressed within the Westminster heritage. The book was written primarily for non-native speakers of English and focuses on advanced grammar for theological purposes, as well as helps readers to identify major categories of theological genre (e.g. apologetics, biblical studies, church history, systematic theology, etc.). Consequently, Hibbs and Reiley have sought to focus on helping the student communicate gospel truth while exploring the complex depths of the English language.

The book is composed of thirty lessons divided amongst ten units. The units are thematically organized by theological genre: apologetics, biblical studies, church history, systematic theology, and practical theology. The goal of each lesson is to instruct in four specific areas: (1) theology, (2) reading, (3) vocabulary, and (4) grammar. The lessons are intentionally practical and offer a number of real-life examples for students to put into practice. This textbook is oriented towards classroom use and includes both individual and group exercises. The readings usually several paragraphs long and from major works by well-known Reformed authors. These are generally well suited for the specific theological genre being discussed within the lesson and offer the reader exposure to excellent scholarship while training in linguistics.

The benefits of Theological English are numerous. Not only have Hibbs and Reiley produced an informative introduction to theology, but they have done so with the purpose of linguistic training—which is front and center throughout the textbook. Moreover, the book draws upon the latest in language-acquisition research while equipping the reader to better understand, explain, and live within the truths of the gospel message. It informs both heart and mind with a balanced ear towards practical exercises and expert guidance in lesson. While the book was written with non-native speakers of English, there is still much (and I mean much) to glean for the native speaker of English—both grammatically and theologically. The only foreseen hurdle to this volume being at the forefront of advanced ESL studies in theology is its clear Reformed undergirding. Other theological traditions may overlook the overt value on Theological English in an attempt to avoid Reformation theology. This in mind, especially if it is a concern of the reader, it should be noted that ESL focus of the book and its organization allows instructors to interact with its theological content while still gleaning from its linguistic value.

Theological English: An Advanced ESL Text for Students of Theology by Pierce Taylor Hibbs with Megan Reiley is a timely and important book that recognized the far-reaching influence of the English language, while not neglecting the rich theological tradition that has championed much of its history. This is a book that should be considered in the seminary and the study for both professional and personal engagement. It’s a much-needed book for today’s student of theology and comes highly recommended!

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