Loving, singing, praying, lamenting, forgiving, being grateful, being generous, even laughing – these are just a few of the Christian practices that inform Kevin W. Hector’s consideration of more traditional theological topics such as the problem of sin and evil, the saving mission of Jesus, and the end of the world. Christianity as a Way of Life shows that the discipline of systematic theology, which traditionally seeks to clarify Christian beliefs, can be reconceived as a study of the embodied, communal practices that make up the Christian life. From start to finish, the prose is clear and the uplifting vision of a life reoriented toward God shines through.

This book reunites doctrine and practice in a manner that many Christians will appreciate, but it also aims to persuade skeptics that theology has a legitimate place in the academy. It does this by arguing that theology offers understanding and wisdom that even scholars who are not devoted to Christianity can recognize as good. By interpreting Christianity not as a collection of beliefs but as a way of life among other ways to live in the world, theology has the potential to broaden anyone’s understanding of life, regardless of his or her religious or nonreligious commitments. Moreover, by explaining how Christian practices can make people better by directing them toward recognizably good ends, theology may help even those who do not adhere to Christianity find some practical wisdom within it.

Yet such gains in broader legibility come with tradeoffs. Some Christian readers may find the distinctiveness of their faith underemphasized. Hector’s book, which aims for academic legitimacy, might be helpfully complemented by other works that more boldly affirm aspects of Christianity that make it seem strange or even “foolish” (1 Cor. 1:27).

Hector’s treatment of prayer provides a useful example. Hector describes prayer as an intentional practice of asking God for goods we desire, which can help us assess whether those goods align with our highest values. Over time, such a practice has the potential to transform our desires in beneficial ways. It helps us avoid taking good things in our lives for granted and heightens our gratitude. If we pray for others, this can increase our ability to love them, while curbing our egoism. In all of these respects, Hector makes a strong case for the practical wisdom of prayer. However, he does not give detailed discussions of what difference it might make to pray in the name of Jesus, what role the Holy Spirit plays in prayer, or the possibility of God speaking to us during prayer.

Though packaged for academic recognition, the Christianity presented here remains powerful, inspiring, and authentic. Informed by diverse traditions and brimming with fresh insights, Hector’s book is a gift to theologians, Christians, and seekers of all kinds.