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Mapping Modern Theology: A Thematic and Historical Introduction Paperback – April 1, 2012
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From the Back Cover
A Fresh Approach to Modern Theology
"This outstanding collection of essays with contributions from leaders in the field will appeal to scholars and students alike. The editors have managed to provide the reader with a genuine alternative to other textbooks. The essays are all excellent, setting a high watermark for other such symposia. It should quickly establish itself as a resource of choice for those wanting a comprehensive account of modern Christian theology that is alert to historical as well as systematic considerations. I highly recommend it."
--Oliver Crisp, Fuller Theological Seminary
"This intriguing volume fills a gap in teaching materials for theological students that has long been noteworthy: it tackles the traditional loci of systematic theology through the lens of modernity's particular challenges. Intended primarily for students in the Reformed tradition, this book will prove to be an excellent textbook and focus for debate; the editors are to be congratulated on the quality and insightfulness of the contributions."
--Sarah Coakley, University of Cambridge
"This collection of fifteen essays on key topics will repay careful study. Through examining the different ways in which the central doctrines of the Christian faith have been handled under the pressures of modernity, it provides valuable orientation for students of modern theology. Clear, informed, and insightful, it deserves inclusion on all relevant reading lists."
--David Fergusson, New College, University of Edinburgh
"A volume such as this is a welcome guide indeed to the contours of modern theology. Especially valuable is the organization of this book according to the classical doctrinal loci and central concerns of the Christian theological tradition. An impressive lineup of scholars provides a sure guide to the ways each of these concerns has been treated within the context of modernity and demonstrates thereby the necessity of our striving, even if sometimes failing, to tell of the gospel in ways both responsible to the tradition and alert to the realities of contemporary culture."
--Murray Rae, University of Otago
"The best book of its kind. Highly recommended."
--Adam A. Neder, Whitworth University
About the Author
Kelly M. Kapic (PhD, King's College, University of London) is professor of theological studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, where he has taught for over a decade. He is the author, editor, or coeditor of several books, including The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics. Bruce L. McCormack (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary; DrTheol hc, Friedrich Schiller University) is Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey. A world-renowned Barth scholar, he is a frequent writer and lecturer on topics of Reformed theology.
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The book has 403 pages of primary content, comprising 15 chapters on specific divisions and themes of Christian theology. These include both foundational areas of scriptural content (such as "Creation" and "The Trinity") and applied areas (such as "Christian ethics"). Each chapter is written by a single author who is an authority on the topic and is meant to serve as a freestanding introduction to the topic. The approaches are generally review-like, meaning that they take more care to expose the breadth of issues rather than to argue for a single position. Each has around 10-20 references to additional material.
The writing level is appropriate for college-level courses, assuming at least general familiarity with Christian scripture and history, and a general foundation (e.g., one to two courses) in modern philosophy such as Kant. It would make an excellent introductory text for themes in theology or a supplement to seminary study. It is also suitable for general readers, if you are interested in an overview of current academic theological work.
What is the volume's orientation? For the most part, it is mainstream Protestant theology with substantial Reformed church (Calvinist) presence in authors and themes. This content is generally within the range of protestant seminaries such as Reformed, Presbyterian, and is not fundamentalist (in the common/popular usage of the word). That is not to say that issues such as creationism are dismissed out of hand; but rather that they are placed into a larger framework about how theology interacts with society and science. No single theologian dominates the chapters, but the most-referenced is Karl Barth. Moltmann, Kung, Tillich, Schleiermacher, and many others show up prominently along the way. Specific Roman Catholic themes are discussed in many places and the overall tenor is friendly yet more protestant.
Finally, the physical printing of the book is excellent; it is a well-produced trade style paperback similar to volumes that might come from a university press. Highly recommended!
I was alerted to the unexpected nature of the book in Bruce McCormack's introductory essay. Rather than "modern" in the sense of "theologians who have been influential in the modern period," (i.e. the last 200 years), "modern" in this book is more "theologians who are self-consciously working with modernist presuppositions." As McCormack points out, "not everything that has happened in the last two hundred years is 'modern'" (2). So, for the focus of the essays in this collection, "modern theologians" are theologians who are take seriously the developments in modern thought (scientific, philosophical, and otherwise), and work in that light.
The names that keep occurring over and over in this regard are Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, and most frequently, Friedrich Schleiermacher, who isn't called "the father of modern theology" for no reason. As you would expect, Barth makes a strong showing, leading several chapters to almost present Schleiermacher as the game changer and then trace the results to Barth with some concluding thoughts on his wake. Though not stated as such, it seems anyone who appropriates and appreciates the theological work of these theologians qualifies as a modern theologian.
With that in mind, the reader is taken on various theological safaris across the modern landscape. Fred Sanders gives us a tour of the development of Trinitarian thought, while Stephen Holmes discusses the divine attributes. Daniel Treier gives a condensed overview of his writing elsewhere on Scripture and hermeneutics (mostly the latter since that it is the modern preoccupation). Katherine Sonderegger talks about creation in light of modern science and Kelly Kapic discusses anthropology in a similar regard. The person of Christ is examined by Bruce McCormack, while chapters on the atonement specifically, and soteriology generally are tackled by Kevin Vanhoozer and Richard Lints respectively.
Side by side are chapters on providence by John Webster and pneumatology by Telford Work. The first was most boring, while the latter was the most interesting. The former was boring probably because it seemed to me the most dryly academic essay in the collection. The latter was the most interesting because Work used a very ingenious metaphor for organizing his survey of the pneumatological landscape. Organizationally, Work's essay was the most creative presentation of the material, and I found myself wishing other essays had taken a similar track.
After Work and Webster's contributions, Brian Brock and Richard Osmer survey the barren landscape that is ethics and practical theology in the modern vein of thought. Brock notes how modern theologians infrequently deal with ethical questions (293), while Osmer, though presents his material well, shows that modern theologians have little to offer in practicalities, at least as historically understood in Christian orthodoxy.
Finally, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen and Michael Horton tackle the varied terrain of modern ecclesiology and modern eschatology. Both of these chapters are excellent for introducing the different modern traditions, and I think to some extent, these chapters were closing to what I was expecting the whole book to be like. They are likewise two chapters that really do survey the landscape, covering all the bases, and therefore can open up avenues of further discussion. Not that the other chapters don't, I just found these two to be particularly helpful in dealing with two topics that have a wide acreage.
In summary, all of the essays are well written and provide short bibliographies for further reading at their conclusion. Additionally, the sources the authors use are those that are most accessible, not necessarily those that are "best" from a specialist's point of view (2n3). This helps the collection of essays shine as a potential textbook for an upper level bible school or seminary level class on modern theology.
Going back to the introduction, McCormack says (in a cryptic sort of way) "it goes without saying that they [modern theologians] may also find the results of critical engagement with the Bible to be unacceptable, but such judgments are often passed by biblical scholars on the work of other members of the guild as well" (17). This seems kind of like saying that since there is disagreement among biblical scholars themselves about the text of Scripture, modern theologians can be somewhat excused if they choose to ignore biblical studies (to a certain extent) in their work.
What emerges when reading this collection of essays is that the development of modern theology (in McCormack's sense) is really the rise of theology unhinged from exegesis. This is not to say this book advocates that, since the contributors worked descriptively rather than prescriptively (18). But it nonetheless demonstrates how a type of theology emerged post-Kant/Hegel/Schleiermacher that was more speculative and less constrained to exegetical foundations. The fruit of this is somewhat rotten in my opinion, and the chapters on practical theology and Christian ethics in the modern period bear this out. The practical theology that grows out of modern theology is not nourishing to the life of the church and Richard Osmer's chapter demonstrates that in a round about way.
While some may consider this a weakness, given the descriptive nature of the book, I would consider it a strength. The contributors to this volume do an excellent job of theological cartography in the modern period. In doing so, several chapters have the unintended effect of demonstrating what happens to theology when it follows in the footsteps of Kant, Hegel, Schleiermacher, and friends. I doubt this was the purpose of the book, and not every chapter demonstrates this to the same extent. Still, it does seem to be a present thread in the narrative and may lead to unintended results.
In terms of mapping out modern theology in thematic and historical ways, this book is an excellent resource and nails its intended target. As neither a polemic for or against modern theology, this book presents modernized theology in context and leaves it up to the reader to decide whether it is something to celebrate or deplore. This has the advantage of allowing the book to be used as a textbook in a celebratory context (say Princeton where McCormack and Osmer teach), as well as an appreciative, but less than enthusiastic one (say in seminaries where Horton, Vanhoozer, and Treier teach). I for one, am not a fan of modern theology. After reading this book, I have a better grasp for why. In that light though, I still would recommend this book to anyone serious about studying and teaching theology. If that's not you, then this book is probably not for you.
[I received a review copy of this book from the publisher]