Book Reviews

Review of Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologians for a Post-Christian World by Wolf Krötke

Krötke, Wolf. Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologians for a Post-Christian World. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019, 272 pp., $48, hardcover. Wolf Krötke (b. 1938) is professor emeritus of systematic theology at Humboldt University in Berlin, where he began teaching in 1991 and retired in 2004. A student of Eberhard Jüngel (one of Karl Barth’s most distinguished pupils), Krötke was the recipient of the international Karl Barth Prize in 1990, and he is one of the few theologians today who have done detailed work on both Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. However, as John Burgess notes in his translator’s preface, “while Professor Krötke is regarded in Germany as a major theological voice and a superb interpreter of Barth and Bonhoeffer, little of his work has been translated into English” (ix). This book serves to remedy this issue. Although the title suggests otherwise, this book is not about Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Instead, it is a collection of seventeen translated essays about Barth or Bonhoeffer, all previously published in German, from across Krötke’s career (the earliest in 1981, the latest in 2013). The first eight essays are about Barth, and the final nine are about Bonhoeffer. In lieu of…

Review of Divine Action and Divine Agency: Systematic Theology Volume III by William J. Abraham
Book Reviews , Featured , Theology / July 14, 2020

Abraham, William J. Divine Action and Divine Agency Volume III Systematic Theology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018, pp.284, £75.00, hardback.   The third in a projected tetralogy, this volume sketches an entire systematics that follows a traditional credal structure. Abraham’s goal is to rescue Christian theology from the Procrustean constraints of an epistemological preoccupation with the problem of divine action. Recent projects, he claims, have worked with a “closed concept” which narrows the scope of God’s work attested in Scripture and tradition. This generates an impoverishment of theology with deleterious consequences for church practice. Prioritising the notion of God as “Agent” as opposed to “Being” or “Process”, Abraham seeks to offer an account of the range of divine activity (understood as an “open” concept) from creation to eschatology. His intent is to defend and develop the canonical traditions of the church as these emerged in the patristic period. Hence his account is resolutely Nicene and Chalcedonian in its approach, and largely impatient with modern projects such as that of Schleiermacher who is charged (perhaps mistakenly) with losing the doctrine of the Trinity (p. 10). For Abraham, systematic theology is a self-critical appropriation of the canonical teachings of the church…

Review of How to Read Theology: Engaging Doctrine Critically and Charitably by Uche Anizor
Book Reviews , Featured , Theology / June 16, 2020

Anizor, Uche. How to Read Theology: Engaging Doctrine Critically and Charitably. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018, pp. 204, $22, softcover. Reading theological literature critically and charitably is a necessary discipline for scholars, pastors, and students. How one goes about cultivating the appropriate skills to read in this way requires instruction and example. Uche Anizor (Ph.D. Wheaton College), associate professor of biblical and theological studies at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, serves the academic community well in this primer where he addresses critical virtues for theological reading. Throughout its six chapters, Anizor’s straightforward argument addresses the need for and the instruction to reading critically and charitably. Part 1, “On Reading Charitably,” consists of two chapters, and Part 2, “On Reading Critically,” consists of four chapters. At the conclusion of these two parts, Anizor includes an epilogue where he further assists readers in applying his methodology. Here he provides examples of theological texts from which one should choose to implement his proposed strategies for critical and charitable reading, even guiding readers through the questions and steps one should expect throughout the process. In chapters one and two, Anizor describes the challenges associated with reading theology charitably, noting the critical importance…

Review of When Bishops Meet: An Essay Comparing Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II by John W. O’Malley
Book Reviews , Church History , Theology / April 15, 2020

O’Malley, John W. When Bishops Meet: An Essay Comparing Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II. Cambridge: Harvard Belknap, 2019, pp. 240, $24.95, hardback.  John W. O’Malley, professor of theology at Georgetown University, has established himself as one of the most learned and thoughtful historians of the great councils of post-Luther Roman Catholicism. Having previously published separate monographs on the Council of Trent and on the First and Second Vatican Councils, this slim volume represents a capstone to his work in this area, offering a reflection upon how modern Catholicism has developed since the Reformation with particular focus on its conciliar actions. The book is arranged thematically rather than chronologically, with each chapter comparing the Councils in terms of a particular topic. Part One raises three basic questions: What do Councils do? Does Church teaching change? Finally, who is in charge? Part Two looks at the categories of people involved: popes and their curia, theologians, laity, and The Other—meaning non-Roman bodies, Orthodox, Protestant, and non-Christian. Part Three then asks what difference the Councils made and whether there will be another one. Protestant readers will find much that is of interest here. O’Malley is adept at explaining the different dynamics of the…

Review of The Son who Learned Obedience: A Theological Case Against the Eternal Submission of the Son by Glenn D. Butner Jr.
Book Reviews , Theology / April 7, 2020

Butner, Jr., Glenn D. The Son who Learned Obedience: A Theological Case Against the Eternal Submission of the Son. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2018, pp. 224, $28, softcover. Glenn D. Butner is Assistant Professor of Theology and Christian Ministry at Sterling College, KS. Prior to The Son who Learned Obedience (subsequently, SLO), he authored articles on the Trinity including, “For and Against de Régnon: Trinitarianism East and West,” (International Journal of Systematic Theology 17.4) 2015, 399-412, and “Eternal Functional Subordination and the Problem of the Divine Will” (Journal for the Evangelical Theological Society 58.1) 2015, 131-49. His article, “Against Eternal Submission: Changing the Doctrine of the Trinity Endangers Salvation and Women,” (Priscilla Papers 31.3) 2017, 15-21, was published in the academic journal of Christians for Biblical Equality, an organization devoted to equipping people for egalitarian ministry. SLO only touches on socio-cultural issues briefly. It contends that eternal relational authority and submission (hereafter, ERAS), a perspective on Trinitarian relations, undermines the Trinity and salvation. Butner begins by describing his method and key argument. He understands theology to be second-order, so he primarily addresses indirect doctrinal principles, ending with direct exegetical data (pp. 5-9). The question of ERAS is not one of exegetical facts but of the “best way to…

Review of The HTML of Cruciform Love: Toward a Theology of the Internet edited by John Frederick and Eric Lewellen

Frederick, John and Eric Lewellen, eds. The HTML of Cruciform Love: Toward a Theology of the Internet. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2019, pp. 208, $26, paperback. This edited volume saw the beginning of its formation at the second “Ecclesia and Ethics” conference in 2014 on the topic of gospel community and virtual existence. The conference was a webinar style conference that was sponsored by Corban University and the University of St. Andrews. Six further articles were also written to supplement the papers chosen from the original conference leading to the present volume published by Pickwick. Co-editor John Fredrick is a lecturer in New Testament at Trinity College Queensland. His other works focus on the way of the cross and cruciform love including Worship in the Way of the Cross and The Ethics of the Enactment and Reception of Cruciform Love. The second co-editor, Eric Lewellen, is an account manager at Vercross LLC, an online education systems technology company. Both editors participated in the second Ecclesia and Ethics conference and collaborated to edit this volume. The articles contained in this volume focus on a theology of the internet from a variety of perspectives. Some take a primarily biblical approach such as…

Review of Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind by Owen Strachan

Strachan, Owen. Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind. Ross-shire: Mentor Publishers, 2019. 432 pages. $39.99. There is significant interest in the questions concerning humankind. The uptick in philosophical, scientific, and theological literature both of a popular sort and an academic sort is evidence of this fact. Owen Strachan in his Reenchanting Humanity contributes to the body of literature on theological anthropology. In it, Owen Strachan raises questions, both historical and contemporary, on the anthropos and offers some answers to them. While it appears to be an academic textbook, it is more of a trade book. Reenchanting Humanity is a lot like a commercial boat with some features of a ship. However, this would fail to take into account the less obvious ships, like a submarine that can move underwater, or a ship that can fly in the air above water. In many ways, Owen Strachan’s Reenchanting Humanity is like one ship, but it falters in accounting for the different kinds of ships. Reenchanting Humanity takes its inspiration from Charles Taylor’s ‘enchantment’ in his The Secular Age. While Strachan does not offer a definition of Taylor’s term, the reader might work this out if they already have a basic understanding of Taylor’s…

Review of The Extravagance of Music by David Brown and Gavin Hopps
Book Reviews , Christianity & Culture , Theology / February 10, 2020

Brown, David and Gavin Hopps. The Extravagance of Music. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan, 2018, 352 pages, $89.99, Hardcover. David Brown is an Anglican Priest, Emeritus Professor of Theology, Aesthetics and Culture, and Wardlaw Professor at the University of St Andrews. His work explores the relationship between theology and philosophy, and most recently, the interactions between theology and the arts. Gavin Hopps is Senior Lecturer in Literature and Theology, and Director for the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts (ITIA) at the University of St Andrews. His research focuses on theology and the arts, with particular interests in Romantic literature and contemporary popular music. The Extravagance of Music presents an optimistic and generous understanding of music’s potential to allow for divine encounter. At the heart of the book is the notion that music is inherently “extravagant”—a term that Brown and Hopps root in its medieval origins, extrā vagārī, meaning to stray outside boundaries or to go beyond limits. This “generous excess” that music provides can potentially mediate our experiences of a similarly generous, extravagant God. The study challenges previous well-chartered but significantly more constrained conceptions of the theological possibilities of music. These have tended to focus on certain styles, or…

Review of The Story of Creeds and Confessions: Tracing the Development of the Christian Faith by Fairbairn and Reeves
Theology / February 7, 2020

Fairbairn, Donald and Ryan M. Reeves. The Story of Creeds and Confessions: Tracing the Development of the Christian Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019. xi+396pp. Pb $34.99. The creeds and confessions of the Christian Church remain fundamental benchmarks of the faith that have survived the test of time and will continue to guide theological developments in the future. As this book reminds us, there is a lot of history behind the formation of these key texts, and not all of it has been pleasant. Controversies have flared up and sometimes led to unfortunate consequences that still defy resolution. However, the ecumenical spirit of our age has allowed us to re-examine this past more objectively than was once the case and to recognize that differences that once led to division may have been due to misunderstandings and/or extraneous factors that are no longer relevant. In weaving their way through these complexities, the authors of this book have done a magnificent job of condensing their material in a way that makes it digestible for the beginning student without cutting corners or being unfair to positions with which they might disagree. Every Christian, of whatever background, will be able to use this…

Review of Atonement by Eleonore Stump
Book Reviews , Theology / February 5, 2020

Stump, Eleonore. Atonement. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019, pp. 560, $80.00, hardback. Eleonore Stump is the Robert J. Henle Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University and an Honorary Professor at the Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology. Stump has authored or edited a number of works on Medieval philosophy and theology. Her Gifford Lectures, titled, “Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering” was published by Oxford University Press. In Atonement, Stump sets out to put forth a new account of the doctrine of atonement. To get to her account of atonement, Stump wanders through the darkness (or light?) of a number of theories of atonement, psychological literature on shame and guilt, medieval accounts of the will, and contemporary neuroscience. Eventually she dubs her account, “the Marian interpretation” of atonement, after any of the number of Marys in the Bible (p. 378). What exactly is this “Marian account” of atonement? First, I should mention that her understanding of “atonement” avoids “narrow” understandings of atonement that equate atonement with removing guilt by means of Christ’s crucifixion and death. Instead, Stump opts for a broader understanding of atonement, one that takes seriously the etymology of the word—”at-one-ment”—and uses the…