The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine (Cambridge Companions to Religion) Paperback – 19 Jun 1997
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"Useful collection for upper-division undergraduate or graduate course." Paul Lakeland, Religious Studies Review
"...fine work..." Currents in Theology and Mission
This book provides an accessible yet stimulating introduction for new readers and non-specialists to the main themes of Christian doctrine. The fourteen specially commissioned essays from leading theologians in Britain and America document the variety, coherence and intellectual vitality of contemporary Christian thought.
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Modernism succeeded in part because the pretensions of the Christian church at the time of the Enlightenment made it an easy target for iconoclasm. In exploiting this institutional weakness monotheism was replaced by pantheism which suited the emergent secular age but collapsed with the cultural crises arising from the two world wars, the imposition of Communism on Eastern Europe and the faithfulness and intransigence of believers. Into this vacuum stepped Karl Barth who developed a systematic theology which Gunton himself described as, "a great and liberating testimony to the grace and goodness of the God of the Bible".
This collection of essays discusses in depth a variety of specific doctrinal issues, especially that of the Trinity, both in substance and historical development. Questions of creation, redemption and eschatology are all examined as examples of God's plan for the world, from beginning to end. The contributors are from a variety of Christian traditions which in itself provides testament to the reuniting of doctrine fractured by past divisions.
This is not an easy volume for non theologians to understand. However, a number of themes are apparent. The notion that Christianity provides a "God of the Gaps" in an attempt to fill in "scientific" knowledge is a false one. God encompasses everything. Secondly, the Christian message is thoroughly grounded in the person, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christianity is not then but now and relating it to the modern world does not require a dilution of fundamental doctrinal truths. This means actively engaging with Biblical critics and understanding the relationships with other cultures including those of religious and non religious belief.
Whether it will have an impact on materialists is doubtful, or for that matter on those for whom doctrine is subservient to practice and belief. However, for any serious student of traditional Christian theology in the early part of the twenty first century, it will serve as an excellent reference work and will be read and studied again and again.
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Perhaps what displeased the earlier reviewer is this: _The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine_ takes as its working assumption the need of doctrinal theology to walk a fine line between remaining loyal to tradition on the one hand and re-thinking that tradition in light of each new generation's experience on the other. In the West, we've moved out of the modern into the postmodern era. Modernist modes of interpreting Christian doctrine cry to be replaced with newer ones that reflect the new postmodern ethos. Otherwise, the Good News runs the risk of coming across as increasingly irrelevant to too many people. The contributors to this volume aim to read traditional doctrine against this new background.
The essays are divided into two sections. The first deals with the nature and scope of doctrinal theology and its relationship to nonChristian traditions (Judaism) and the symbols of secular society (the arts). The second examines several key topics traditionally included in doctrinal or systematic theology: the trinity, creation, anthropology, sacraments, Christology, pneumatology, eschatology.
Geoffrey Wainwright's essay on "The Holy Spirit" is especially noteworthy. Perhaps the single best essay in the entire collection, it seeks to reawaken the West to theological reflection on the Holy Spirit without falling victim to a "pneumatological hypertrophy" characteristic of, for example, Pentecostalism (p. 289). Equally worthy of note is Gerard Loughlin's "The Basis and Authority of Doctrine," which attempts a postmodern reading of that most un-postmodern of doctrines: authority. But although of varying quality, none of the articles in the collection are heavy-handed or simplistic. There are certain gaps in the collection--the editor himself seems uncomfortable that no essay explicitly dealing with the topics of justification and sanctification is included, and on a related note, I worry about the lack of a sustained treatment of grace. But all in all, a good, through-provoking anthology.
None of the essays were less than excellent and all of them are a great place to start in investigating these areas in Christian theology. Also valuable for students, at the end of each essay is included suggestions for further reading.
Mostly a valuable resource and introduction for students, but should be valuable to any level of theologian.
I use the text in a graduate level intro. course to compliment another standard text in systematic theology, giving the student another brief perspective on contemporary Christian theology. Readers with some background in philosophy or theology will find it extremely useful, but those with no philosophical or theological background may be a little overwhelmed (consider Alister McGrath's "Christian Theology: An Introduction" instead).
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