“Rather, train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (I Timothy 4:7b-8)
As someone who has struggled with weight issues, I’ve always been interested in the relationship between physical discipline and spiritual training. So when I first saw Aimee Byrd’s book, Theological Fitness, I wondered if this would be a work-out version of the Daniel Plan. Thankfully, it is not. Rather than focusing on spiritualized workout plans, Byrd turns her attention in this book to the more valuable idea of spiritual fitness, theological training, and in particular the idea of perseverance. She uses the metaphors and concepts of athletic competition and physical training and applies them the deep spiritual ideas—yet in an approachable manner that even non-athletes can enjoy.
In Theological Fitness, Byrd drills down deep into the richness of Hebrews 11:23: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” In a very conversational, practical way, she tackles some weighty theological issues, like the nature of standing firm and the importance of God’s covenants.
Without giving too much away, I want to share a few bits that have stuck with me through the reading of the book, and some takeaways I have. First, from the very beginning, I was grabbed by her discussion of unity (“Let us…”) and the idea of striving side-by-side that Paul addresses in Philippians 1. She writes that Paul’s particular wording in Philippians 1 evokes military imagery, which would resonate with a military community (as Philippi apparently was). Part of “theological fitness” is linking arms with other believers and recognizing that you are bound together with the other members of the Body of Christ, which gives you a deep and abiding connection with other Christians.
The breadth of theological truth Byrd tackles in Theological Fitness is really admirable. She doesn’t shy away from the “big ideas” of Christianity, like the Trinity and the Incarnation. Rather, she presents them in a simple, straightforward manner so that even new or untrained believers can begin to grapple with these ideas.
I appreciate how Gospel-saturated this book is. Byrd has a firm grasp (pun intended) of how the Gospel of Jesus transforms and empowers Christians to hold fast to their confession. And even though this book is focused on Hebrews 10, Byrd weaves in other passages of Hebrews as well as a host of other sections of both the Old and New Testaments. This kind of “whole-Bible” exegesis makes the reading of the text so rich. For example, she connected the “creedal statements” of Psalm 110 to Hebrews 7, as she discussed the eternal priesthood of Christ. This provided a really rich comparison study.
The only cautionary note I would give—and it’s REALLY not even a “caution” as much as an FYI—is that Byrd is very much a Presbyterian (come to think of it, I’ve been reading a LOT of Presbyterians lately…weird), so her denominational distinctives shine through a bit, particularly in terms of Covenant Theology. That said, even profoundly Dispensationalist believers can and will benefit from this book.
The big takeaway I have from reading Theological Fitness is that I really want to reread the “sermon-letter” of Hebrews, thanks to Aimee Byrd’s work in weaving together the themes of the book. I’m sure she would be happy to hear that.
Bottom Line: Theological Fitness is a fine book about Christian perseverance that I would commend to anyone. While it does not provide a deep or scholarly discussion of Hebrews 10 (and that’s not at all the intention), this book taps into some rich and thought-provoking truths that both recent and mature believers can appreciate and benefit from. Plus, any book on theology that draws on The Karate Kid to describe spiritual discipline gets bonus points from me. Well done, Aimee-san.
Note: I was provided a complimentary electronic copy for free by the publisher (P&R Publishing) through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. The preceding comments are my sincere opinions about the book reviewed.