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  • Writer's pictureGODVERSITY

Book Review: A Journey Through Christian Theology

A Journey Through Christian Theology: With Texts from the First to the Twenty-First Century

, 2nd edition, William P. Anderson (ed.),Fortress Press, 2010 (ISBN 978-0-8006-9697-9), xxii

+ 454 pp., PB $39

The content of Christian theology is nothing if not complex and nuanced. Faith, in essence, may be something relatively simple; an orientation of the heart, an intention of the will, a determination of religious identity. But as soon as the person of faith takes up the Anselmian challenge to seek understanding of that faith, problems of where to start and how to proceed quickly become acute. Of course, many easy solutions are offered, and most of those are of dubious intellectual quality, short-changing both the integrity of the faith and the honesty of its supposed cognition. The result is most often is in misinformed fundamentalism or other variants of stifling naïveté. But for, many Christian believers seeking to deepen their knowledge and understanding by becoming students of theology. This second edition of Anderson’s Journey is one of particularly good value. It purports, in its preface, to offer a ‘trusty companionship for the journey as well as to present ‘a hearty invitation to undertake the journey in the first place (p. ix). And in an attempt to make the journey as relaxed and enjoyable as possible, the intellectual demands along the way are lightened by the insertion of cartoon comments that can, at times, provide critical insight and reinforcement of the main idea by way of delivering a shaft of humorous light. For some, however, they may be more of a side-line distraction, and there are times when it seems that without more profound knowledge, the point of a cartoon may, in fact, be lost. Still, the overall impression is of a book that deals with complex and heavy topics in a most appealing manner and succeeds in that on the whole. One exciting feature is that, although the book has been written and structured in a historically developmental fashion, the preface presents an alternate format whereby the book could be read thematically. By a reasonable selection of provided readings, nine discrete theological topics – Faith and Reason, the doctrines of God,

Trinity, Christ, Church and Sacraments, Eschatology and Hope, together with a clutch of significant other issues (in this case, mysticism, feminism, and liberation theologies) – the book could be used as a foundational text in a course on systematic theology per se as well as a text on the history of Christian thought which is its primary orientation. Thus, as a text, it is suitable for both theological and religious studies types of teaching programs. The book is structured into twelve parts, the first five of which effectively range over the patristic period and just beyond.

Part One deals with key apostolic fathers and apologists. Part Two traverses the Arian crisis, critical while the third part is devoted to the three Cappadocian Fathers. Include then comes the fifth century Christological controversies in Part Four, and Part Five’s ‘Later Developments’ has St Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, and John Scotus Erigena. Part Six dips into the ninth century, and Part Seven ranges over some key figures of the Middle Ages, including Anselm and Aquinas, and a section on three significantwomen: Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, and Catherine of Siena. Starting with Erasmus and concluding with the Anabaptists, Part Eight tracks through the Reformation Era, while Part Nine provides the Roman Catholic Response to the Council of Trent. The last threeparts deal with the Modern period (Kant, Schleiermacher, Feuerbach,Strauss, Kierkegaard, and Ritschl) and the Later Modern period whichfocuses mainly on select key figures of the twentieth century, endingwith Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The final part, The Contemporary Period, focuses mainly on significant twentieth-century movements in theology– liberation, feminism, Black liberation, and ecology. Interestingly the last entry, perhaps confusingly called ‘Two Contemporary EcclesialResponses,’ draws on some of the documentation to come out of Vatican II on the one hand and the 1967 Confession of Faith of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States, on the other.

The rationale for these two seems to be, in effect, that the decade of the 1960s was not only a time of widespread turbulence on many fronts but that in terms of the Christian church. It was something of a turning point, at least for the Church of Rome, as Vatican II amply testifies, and for many other churches for which the US Presbyterian effort to produce the firstnew confessional statement of that tradition in three centuries is something of a representative exemplar.

In any work such as this that tries to range over the entire two-millennium sweep of Christian intellectual development, decisions about what to include and what, or who, to leave aside are never easy. Many items within are obvious and needful; some a bit less so. But I do not think anything of pressing significance has been omitted in terms of topic, even if one might have liked to have seen some other names and representative contributions of their work. The Anglican tradition, for example, is missing entirely; so too something from Reviews Arminius and the Arminian tradition. And there is nothing that addresses the modern ecumenical phenomenon, which is as much an atheological concern as it is an ecclesial activity. So the book has some limitations, clearly. But for what it does include, mainly how it presents and deals with its subject matter. Each part begins with a helpful introductory essay and consists of a very useful and illuminating timeline.

Key terms are highlighted, and selected supplementary readings are noted. Each of the individual theological authors whose works have been included is likewise introduced then. Following the excerpt, there is a follow-up reflectivecomment and some study questions posed. In all, I find the pedagogical format helpful and reader-friendly – something that will appeal in the selection of this book as a class text and aids the solo reader simply interested in plumbing the depths of the intellectual heritage of Christianity in a soundly guided fashion.

Reviewed by: Douglas Pratt University of Bern, Switzerland & University Waikato, New Zealand

Book available


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