Like its companion volume from Blackwell (`The Medieval Theologians'), this text, `The Modern Theologians', edited by David Ford, provides a wonderful in-depth and broad-ranging introduction to twentieth century theology. In fact, the modern period which Ford delineates is post-World War I to the present; in many ways, the first world war provided a defining turning point for much of intellectual history, and theology was no exception. Ford admits that the selection process might be somewhat controversial - in any history or survey, the amount of material excluded is always vast - but is largely based upon those theologians who both covered the broadest range of topics and/or are currently studied in earnest by scholars, theologians and others in universities, seminaries, and religious institutions.
This is a book on Christian theology, not a comparative religions text, but it does cover the main branches of Christianity, looking at modern theology based upon personality, geography, and theological approach. The first section examines the lives and work of some of the most significant theological voices to dominate the century, most of whom were European (no surprise, given the dominance of the European voices in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well). These people include Roman Catholics and Protestants - Congar, de Lubac, Rahner, Balthasar, Schillebeeckx, and Kung on the Catholic side, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Jungel, Bultmann, tillich, Pannenberg and Moltmann on the Protestant side.
The second through fourth sections look at theologies based on geography - theology from Britain, theologies of North America (arguably one of the primary centres of theology as we enter the twenty-first century), and theologies from Latin America, Africa, and Asia, essential untapped domains with strong potential, perhaps poised to surpass the traditional Western lands as the realm of creative and strong theological endeavours. Among the topics here include the cross-disciplinary aspects of theology as undertaken in Britain (theology and history, theology and philosophy, theology and culture/society), different kinds of liberation theology (Black theology, Hispanic theology, Native American, Womanist, Feminist theologies, in addition to the original Latin American), as well as contextual theologies arising from so-termed third world nations, and the newly developing realm of postliberal and postmodern theology.
The final four sections look at key topics - Evangelical theology on the one hand and Orthodox theology on the other (the article on Orthodox theology was written by the now-Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams); connections between the Bible and theology, theology as it addresses relations with other religions in the world, and Judaism in particular; and the connection of theology to the natural sciences, social sciences, and the arts.
The contributors to this volume themselves constitute a significant collection of major modern voices in academic theology. In addition to the above-mentioned Williams are well-known scholars such as Graham Ward, Rebecca Chopp, Peter Ochs, Peter Sedgwick, Werner Jeanrond, Daniel Hardy, William Placher and Ann Loades.
Ford's own essay as the Epilogue provides and interesting forward look into the trends of theology presently coming into play. He addresses key questions of theological study - the relationship with God and truth, the placing of theology in the academy and/or churches as authentic, and the ultimate question, always worthwhile, of just who does theology?
Each essay is wonderfully annotated with notes and bibliography for further research, making this an ideal tool for students and scholars. There is a chart at the end of a list of dates for placing the major theologians of the twentieth century in proper order and context with other world events. The glossary is very useful for students of theology, and the index is very well done.
Blackwell has a strong reputation as a publisher of quality theological and other scholarly works, and this volume, the second edition of a text first published in the 1980s, has all the hallmarks of this deserved fame.
on 28 July 2004
Ford's work is very comprehensive, covering many aspects of modern theology, in a balance between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. There are omissions, for instance in process theology and certain post-modern theologies, but generally the ground covered is very useful.
However because of the breadth of the materiel covered, there is often a lack of depth in analysis. It is difficult to cover Moltmann in 16 pages, and many of the theologians are not fully covered. That said, the aim of the book is to introduce readers to these theologies, and it does this well. In addition I would have preferred it if the book had analysed individual theologians more, rather than the more general expositions on movements and schools. For instance I'm not sure what the point in chapter 34 "Theology and the Arts: Music" is; it would be better to introduce another specific theologian. This applies to a number of the chapters. Liberation theology is studied in depth with individual attention given to feminism (2 chapters) African, Asian, South American and Native American liberation theologies. This seems excessive to me - surely these all could come under 'Liberation theology?'
The contributory writers and their commentaries are all of a high calibre.
So for a general approach to modern theology, I would recommend this book. It receives only three stars because in places it is just too general - as a consequence of attempting to cover too much. It is useful as a study aid; mainly to provide background to a subject, and to give an idea of related thought.