“Mapping Modern Theology”: A Review

Mapping Modern TheologyMapping Modern Theology is a fun book. I provides a different take on theology as it developed after the Enlightenment. Typically one will read a historical overview that takes the reader from movement to movement whereby differences and similarities between movements are highlighted. Another common approach consists of monographs that explicate the inner coherence and workings of a particular systematic theology.

But when one wants to know what exactly happened with the doctrine of, let’s say, the Trinity, one is at a loss to find a textbook on how theologians in modernity responded, transformed, and reformulated the classic pre-modern formulations concerning the Trinity. In the pre-modern era Trinity was conceived of in ontological substance terminology derived from the Church Fathers. With methaphysical approaches to theology increasingly becoming less fashionable and feasible in the modern period, Christian thinking about the Trinity was thoroughly overhauled. But how?

The typical student of theology may have heard of Rahner’s Rule in which the economic Trinity equals the immanent Trinity. One may have heard of the impetus Karl Barth has given to the doctrine or how Moltmann placed the crucifixion as an ontological event within the Trinity. But it’s merely bits and pieces. Writing and researching on these things one always feels somewhat at a loss: Am I missing something here? Does my theological proposal sufficiently engage the relevant theological discussion on this point?

“Mapping Modern Theology” takes a different approach. It takes the classical loci of Christian theology as its point of departure. It asks: what happened to the doctrine of God, Trinity, Christology, anthropology, soteriology, atonement, eschatology, ecclesiology, the doctrine of the Word, etc.? For each of these topics you will find an essay written by a knowledgable scholar on the topic.

Many of the contributing scholars work from a Reformed/evangelical paradigm. As such they pay significant attention to what happens on the conservative side of modernity. At the same time they do not betray a lack of knowledge. Neither do they evidence a bias against liberalism and if they have it, it hardly shows. In that regard this is a good textbook for any theological student, not just Reformed ones.

I have to say that after reading the 10th essay the story does become a little predictable. It starts with the paradisical innocence of pre-modernity. Then Kant happens after which you get Schleiermacher and Hegel until Barth comes around the corner. However, any student familiar with this general format, still has plenty of gaps in her knowledge of the particulars of a specific doctrine. It is imposible to know the main players for each and every discussion. As such this book is a welcome addition—even for PhD candidates—as a general overview or as a quick reference guide when doing research.

When traveling through theology-land don’t forget to take your map with you.

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