Historical Theology

When it comes to learning and articulating theology, students are often more adept at the theology of a certain movement like liberalism, feminism and the like or a certain theologian like Barth, Schleiermacher,  Niebuhr and others. However, when it comes to the historical development of a particular theological branch like soteriology or eschatology students are usually lacking in their ability to understand how they have developed over time from one theologian or movement to another.

In an effort to aid students of theology towards a better understanding of the development of various areas of systematic theology, Kelly Kapic and Bruce McCormick have assembled a team of renowned theologians to produce Mapping Modern Theology: A Thematic and Historical Introduction. Each of the contributors in this volume is known for their adeptness in the field in which they are writing. Among the fourteen contributors Fred Sanders handles the trinity, Kelly Kapic anthropology, Kevin VanHoozer the atonement and Michael Horton finishes with eschatology.

The stated idea of the book is to

Organize modern theology along the lines of classic doctrinal topics or themes so that more complete coverage of significant developments in each area of doctrinal construction might be achieved. (p. 1)

Since modern theology is a slice in the pie of historical theology it stands to question how it came about. McCormick believes it developed when

Church-based theologians ceased trying to defend and protect the received orthodoxies of the past against erosion and took up the more fundamental challenge of asking how the values resident in those orthodoxies might be given an altogether new expression, dressed out in new categories for reflection. (p. 3)

As with all epochs of theological development, the defining question(s) that shaped modern theology was the nature of God and His relation to the world (p. 4). This is fleshed out through three areas of consideration: the doctrine of creation, the being of God in relation to creation and the doctrine of revelation. Admittedly, it is the desire of theologians to interact with the scientific contributions to theology that have driven a good bit of modern theology. So, given the world in which we have discovered certain things about how God has worked in the natural world/revelation, how does that influence (if at all) how we understand God’s special revelation in Scripture.

Like some historical theology books, Mapping Modern Theology focuses on the last 150-200 years of theological development. What the contributors do is weave the theology of theologians and movements together to present a uniform and sequential presentation of their development as they interact with one another. Unlike some historical theology books, Mapping Modern Theology focuses each chapter on an individual theological discipline and traces its development through people and movements. Also unlike some historical theology books, Mapping Modern Theology presents a more fuller presentation of the historical development and takes more time on the thought of the people and movements as well as discusses more movers and shakers than other books might.

Mapping Modern Theology can be used as both a reference book for individual theological disciplines and a text book for a class on modern theology. Teachers and readers will appreciate the list of further resources on each theological discipline so students have a good place to start for writing papers or further study. Readers will notice that several theologians were pillars of modern theology such as Barth, Schliermacher, Rahner, Ritschl, Hegel, Moltmann, Niebuhr and others. Also important to the understanding of modern theology is the work of men like Freud as his works speak to a view of man as well as God. While some more conservative movements have tended to ignore the works of these modern theologians, it would be naive to think their works have no value, as, undoubtedly, their own movements theological convictions have stemmed in various ways as a response or reaction to them.

Mapping Modern Theology is a great addition to the growing literature on modern theology. It serves as a great introduction to the field and hopefully other scholars will take notice.

NOTE: I received this book from Baker and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review. The words expressed in this review are my own.

This post was originally posted on Servants of Grace and was re-posted with permission.

There is no doubt that Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins has stirred up much controversy on the subject of heaven and hell. One of the points Bell tries to make is that his view of hell has always been a part of the orthodox Christian tradition. Since I am going to do a separate review of the book I will not address this claim here. However, this point brings up an important question for Christians – How do we know what the church has always taught about different doctrines like heaven and hell?

This is where a knowledge of historical theology becomes very important. Historical theology seeks to trace the development of a specific doctrine (like the doctrine of heaven & hell) from the early church to the present. It requires both a knowledge of doctrine and history and can sometimes be overwhelming.

In steps Gregg Allison with his new book Historical Theology: An Introduction to the Development of Christian Doctrine. Allison’s book could not have come at a better time!

Allison has structured the book to follow Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology which has served the church since its first production in a variety of settings (school, church and home). What Grudem did for systematic theology Allison has done for historical theology – to make it accessible to anyone.

Since it follows the same chapter outline as Grudem’s work they appear as follows:

Part 1: The Doctrine of the Word of God
Part 2: The Doctrine of God
Part 3: The Doctrine of Man
Part 4: The Doctrines of Christ and the Holy Spirit
Part 5: The Doctrine of the Application of Redemption
Part 6: The Doctrine of the Church
Part 7: The Doctrine of the Future

This is a book that should be in the home of every Christian. Even if you dont read it from cover to cover it is a must need reference book for anyone, especially if you teach Bible in any capacity in your church or school.

For more information like the benefits of studying historical theology and a link to an interview with Allison about the book see Justin Taylor.

UPDATE: Harper Collins has a number of sections of this book available for viewing on their site here!