Book Review: Mapping Modern Theology edited by Kelly M. Kapic & Bruce L. McCormack

4 out of 5 Stars
Publisher: Baker Academic
Buy Mapping Modern Theology
Reading Level: Difficult

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.

A free copy of this book was provided by Baker Academic. If you plan on purchasing Mapping Modern Theology: A Thematic and Historical Introduction, consider supporting Grace for Sinners by purchasing from Amazon.