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January 16, 2007

Book Review: Christian Theologies of Scripture

Matt Stokes, former Stone (but always welcome back, dude) got a copy of a book he enjoyed and wanted to bring to the attention of our SCO readers.

I must confess that my knowledge of theology is not particularly strong. That's not to say that I am happy with this state of affairs. I am most certainly not. Yet I have only a passing knowledge of Christian theology, just enough to nod and comment over coffee. I have ideas about what I like and do not like about certain theologies, but it would be a stretch to say that I could adequately promulgate a particular line of theology. Therefore it was to my great relief that I was presented a copy of Christian Theologies of Scripture: A Comparative Introduction, a helpful volume edited by Justin Holcomb.

Holcomb is a lecturer at both the University of Virginia and Reformed Theological Seminary, and he has done a masterful job of editing this volume. Within this text the reader finds brief essays outlining a multitude of angles on the subject, from medieval interpretations of Scripture to the approach of the postmodernists in our own time. In between the reader is introduced to all the ideas of names familiar to any adherent and student of Christianity: Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Balthasar and Barth. This review will not examine every chapter, but I do hope to demonstrate some general strengths and weaknesses found in this volume.

This anthology is particularly important as Christians Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox are currently making a concerted effort to understand doctrine outside the parameters of traditional denominational theology. Moreover it is helpful for both the studious believer and the purely academic student of the Christian faith to understand the multitude of theologies that have existed throughout history. This is particularly important as so many of theologies discussed in this book those of Luther, Calvin, Barth, post-modernism, African-American theology and feminist theory remain hugely influential in much of American Christianity.

It is for this reason that I found the chapters dealing with the above topics to be so beneficial. R.R. Renos chapter on Origen was useful, but academic in the sense that one would not immediately recognize Origens influence in modern Christianity. By contrast, Lutherans, Calvinists and students or adherents of the Emergent Church would find chapters specifically relevant to their own callings and pursuits. Of course the purpose of this volume is simply to inform the Christian laymen. This is an academic text, and in this regard, the book is a great success. Desiring a basic understanding of the various Christian interpretations of Scripture, the reader is presented with the historical Catholic interpretations of St. Thomas Aquinas and the later Counter-Reformation as well as the Protestant Reformers and their numerous descendants.

As someone with more conservative leanings in both theology and politics, it is tempting to offer a more detailed analysis of the chapters on feminism and post-modernism. Instead, one can say, as do the authors themselves, that feminism, post-modernism and African-American theologies are so often rooted in experience. This hits, in so many ways, at the dividing line between many believers. What shall determine our theology? Scripture alone, or should experience that of the Church or that of a particular group (women, African-Americans, other minorities) define theology? There is no clear answer in this volume, nor should there be. This is a question for another volume. If it were handled as well as Christian Theologies of Scripture: A Comparative Introduction, students of Christianity would be indeed be fortunate.

Posted by Doug at January 16, 2007 12:55 PM

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