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Mapping Modern Theology: A Thematic And Historical Introduction [Paperback]

Bruce L. Mccormack , Kelly M. Kapic

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Book Description

1 April 2012
This textbook offers a fresh approach to modern theology by approaching the field thematically, covering classic topics in Christian theology over the last two hundred years. The editors, leading authorities on the history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century theology, have assembled a respected team of international scholars to offer substantive treatment of important doctrines and key debates in modern theology. Contributors include Kevin Vanhoozer, John Webster, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, and Michael Horton. The volume enables readers to trace how key doctrinal questions were discussed, where the main debates lie, and how ideas developed. Topics covered include the Trinity, divine attributes, creation, the atonement, ethics, practical theology, and ecclesiology.

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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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Sound Overview of Modern Theology That Tells A Surprising Tale 16 July 2012
By Nate Claiborne - Published on
This book was not quite what I was expecting. This is not a weakness of the book per se, but something I need to highlight for you so you know what you're getting into if you choose to add this to your library. While this book turned out different than I expected, the narrative that emerges in the essays turns out to be different than I imagine the editors expected.


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]
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent mainstream introduction 18 Jun 2012
By Sitting in Seattle - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This volume is an excellent single-volume overview of the principal themes and discussions in modern-to-contemporary Christian theology (19th and 20th centuries). Because the Amazon information is a bit scarce, and because the subject is polarized, I wanted to supplement the information here.

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!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Continued legacy of mapping modern theology, successfully 9 Oct 2012
By Oxford - Published on
Fifteen leading theologians wrote essays on fifteen selected modern theological topics for Mapping Modern Theology. These theologians are compelled to encompass major topics discussed under the span of modern theology. Readers drawn to this kind of book often expect to find an accurate roadmap with sufficient details to navigate through important places. The direct lineage of mapping theology has been continuous in the last twenty years from books such as 20th-Century Theology (S. Grenz, 1993), A Map of Twentieth Century Theology (C. Braaten, 1995), Fortress Introduction to Contemporary Theology (L. Miller, 1998), and The Modern Theologians (D. Ford, 2005).

However, without being selective drawing a modern theology map remains insuperable. In effect, in Mapping philosophical-theological perspectives discuss modern theology by focusing on historical developments of major topics in systematic theology such as the Trinity (essay written by Fred Sanders), biblical hermeneutics (Daniel Treier), anthropology (Kelly Kapic), Christology (Bruce McCormack), atonement (Kevin Vanhoozer), providence (John Webster), soteriology (Richard Lints), Christian ethics (Brian Brock) and eschatology (Michael Horton). The subtitle indicates that their method is thematic and historical: it is an interwoven and dialectical approach to modern theology through the history of interaction between brilliant minds struggling to break into a new era called modernity.

The modern theologians were mainly interested in "the nature of God and his relation to the world," and they demarcated modernity from the Reformation, the center of which was the doctrine of justification (4). Several philosopher-theologians are constantly discussed throughout Mapping and this makes its thematic-historical approach to modern theology dialectical. Barth seems to be portrayed as a leading theologian of modernity (15, 80ff, 138ff, 142, 169ff, 194, 269f, 355), followed by Schleiermacher (31, 72, 157ff, 265f, 329), Hegel (11, 75f, 160f, 192ff), Moltmann (25f, 193f, 366f, 387f), Kant, Bultmann, Pannenberg, Rahner, Tillic, and C. F. H. Henry mentioned almost as the last figure of modernity.

Barth's major contribution of "Christological concentration" (15) began the dialogue of modern theology, reviving the doctrine of the Trinity (41). As Sanders said in "The Trinity," talking about the Trinity in the 1970s and afterward became utterly different (21). Such a Christocentric discussion of the Trinity ameliorated Pannenberg's radical assertion that until the coming of God's kingdom "God does not exist" (27). Epistemological inquiries began on the basis of human experience. Kant's existential thought thus influenced modernity (51ff). Readers may appreciate the thematic approach of Mapping, especially when chapters build on top of discussions of previous chapters. Thus, the exaltation of human experience by Kant and Schleiermacher echoed even in areas of hermeneutics (chapter 4); Treier rightly observed that one of the characteristics of modern theology was found in the opposition between Scripture and tradition (68). Barth challenged liberals drifting from the authority of Scripture (80ff). Henry's battle for the inerrancy of Scripture intermediated the discussion of new hermeneutics (85ff). Then the discussion of new hermeneutics led to another discussion for understanding both the creation account (chapter 5) and anthropology (chapter 6).

Chapter seven deals with the person of Christ. McCormack illustrates the whole spectrum of mainstream Christology influenced by Hegel and Schleiermacher to Barth then post-Barthian theologians such as Pannenberg, Moltmann, and von Balthasar (171f). Vanhoozer's pregnant chapter on the atonement surveys more modern theologians than any other chapter. Followed by Webster's chapter on providence and Telford Work on pneumatology dealing with more controversial aspects in modern theology. In chapter eleven, Lints shows how contents of theological discussions have changed in the modern period, and how much of this change should affect soteriology, man's salvation, Christian evangelism, the social gospel, and other social movements (271ff).

Consequently, diverse and evangelical perspective on the discussion of man's salvation leads to the rest of the book: "Ethics" (chapter 12), "Practical theology" (13), "Ecclesiology" (14), "Eschatology" (15). Toward the end of Mapping readers gain a clear picture on modern theology and how modern theology changed the Church and believers. Familiar names such as Richard Niebuhr and Reinhold Niebuhr become the subject of the main discussion (303ff). A discussion of ethics shows Yoder's influence (312ff). In "practical theology," interesting ties are enumerated such as between Schleiermacher and postmodernism, theology and sociology, theology and psychology (329ff). The remaining chapters trace how these ties catalyzed postmodern theology. According to Kärkkäinen and Horton, diverse foci are developed, yet their characteristics remain undetermined.

Explaining major contributors and their effects for modern theology is an ambitious task but Mapping brings worthy contributions. Some parts of the book may provoke disagreement; however, its interwoven approach to draw a modern theological map still deserves consideration. Readers will appreciate the contributors providing interesting yet coherent understandings about modern theology. Mapping Modern Theology should be a joyful addition to a pastor-scholar's library.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Rounded, Thorough and Helpful Guide to Modern Theological Development 13 Aug 2012
By Life Long Reader - Published on
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.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good intro 24 July 2012
By Mathew Sims - Published on
I love what Kapic did with John Owen so I decided to give Mapping Modern Theology a go. I don't read modern theology at all (at least not the writers emphasized here). I'm familiar with the major players from seminary but that's been a while. Reading this was a enjoyable crash course for me. It took me about two chapters to really get into the flow of the book but once I did I found the rest approachable and profitable.

I love the structure. Rather than organizing around the personalities and developing the theology chronologically, the book moves through doctrines (like a systematic would) emphasizing the developments and major contributors. Some of the most prominent names you will find are Schleiermacher, Barth, Bultmann, Darwin, Dorner, Hegel, Charles Hodges, Hume, Kant, Moltmann, Pannenburg and there are many references to Luther, Calvin, & Aquinas who are not modern but very influential amongst these modern theologians and philosophers. Generally, the theology discussed happens over the last 200 years but not necessarily. The writers are more worried about the themes than a strict chronology.

As someone who doesn't frequently read in this field it was interesting placing practice and theology I've encountered in evangelical and reformed communities within an historical context. Some of the good and much of the bad can be traced back to the major movers who developed modern theology. For instance, in the section on salvation Richard Lints says,

Ritschl was quite critical of the individualistic orientation of soteriology in Protestant Orthodoxy. He decried the individualistic notions of salvation embedded in much Protestant theology because they inevitably drew attention away from the corporate dimensions of love as the summum bonum of the Christian faith. "The Christian community is God's supreme end in the world." Love was always directed at another, which entailed that love demanded a community in order to be lived. (p. 267)

Lints then examines the development of the this individualistic focus and also the revivalist's practice of by "whatever means" when "converting" a sinner (268).

Also, I found the essay on "Creation" by Katherine Sonderegger compelling. She argues that modern apologists for God have retreated even in their positive arguing. For instance,

[T]here is no mistaking that the air of retreat that hovers over these innovations. It is one thing, after all, to assert, as did Thomas Aquinas in his famous Five Ways, that the existence of God can be demonstrated by deep reflections on the structure of the cosmos. It is another thing altogether to say that the logical and empirical demonstrations of natural theology can no longer be advanced, and in its place must stand a suggestion, an analogy, and invitation, or a probability. To medieval apologists such a much move would appear to be a concession, and it is the sting of such a charge that fuels the animosity and high rhetoric of current debates over cosmology, scientific, and Intelligent Design. (109)

I have been advocating for a renewal in the study of church history and its theology; if this admonition hits you, Mapping Modern Theology: A Thematic and Historical Introduction is your huckleberry. So much of our modern foibles could be avoided if there was a clear understanding of where we have been and where we are going. It would be helpful if you had some previous reading in this genre or at least a background in theology, but the writing is well structured and approachable enough that the determined layperson could read it without much ado.
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