Introduction to Christian Theology: Contemporary North American Perspectives

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Introduction to Christian Theology: Contemporary North American Perspectives. Edited by Roger A. Badham. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1998, 278 pp. $28.95 paper.

North American Christian theology in the twentieth century has provided a place at the table for many diverse theological voices. Sometimes diversity has arisen from within a particular school of thought and has helped to develop new ways of doing theology (liberation theology, for example). Roger A. Badham, former chaplain at Cornell University and current doctoral candidate at Drew University, has compiled an introductory text that allows many of the formative voices of twentieth-century theology to speak for themselves. From evangelicals to process theologians, a wide range of God-talk is represented in the pages of this book.

Badham begins by succinctly surveying the theological landscape of the twentieth century, citing modernism, pluralism, and the Holocaust as the three major formative movements/events that have shaped (and continue to shape) current theological thinking. In the final two chapters of the introduction ("The Contemporary Setting For Theology"), John Hick and Clark M. Williamson discuss the effects of pluralism and relations between Christians and Jews respectively. The introduction leaves little doubt that current theological thinking, perhaps more than ever before, has been obliged to become truly global in perspective and context.

Badham has included chapters in each section of the book written by innovative and influential thinkers in their various theological paradigms. Evangelicalism or "conservationist" theology is the first theological area discussed. This is done by Carl F. H. Henry, Thomas C. Oden, and Clark Pinnock. One would be hard pressed to find a more diverse threesome of scholars within the same discipline. Their diversity reminds the reader that evangelicalism is more than a static set of beliefs; rather, it is a dynamic movement embracing certain core values that have helped shape the theological landscape of the twentieth century. One wonders, with Clark Pinnock, if this influence will continue in this century in light of the three challenges facing theology mentioned in the introduction.

Next, Badham enlists James J. Buckley and Stanley Hauerwas to speak for "Postcritical and Cultural-Linguistic Theologies." Buckley lends a Catholic perspective to postliberal theology in which crucial issues like Protestant-Catholic relations, Vatican II, and pluralism are addressed. Buckley sees postliberalism's emphases and approach as a positive contribution, not only to Catholic-Protestant relations, but also to the voice of North American and world theology. He cites in his conclusion that the greatest contribution of postliberal theology comes from the fact that, while it may not provide a fully comprehensive vision, it points "like a crooked line" beyond merely liberal or modern theology and therefore may provide a theology "for Catholic and evangelicals, open to Israel and the nations in humble trust that God can make all things work for the good" (p. 100).

Hauerwas, an ethicist, writes not only of the flourishing and development of his discipline, but also of the "present exhaustion" of the discipline of Christian ethics; Hauerwas's chapter is therefore subtitled "A Promising Obituary. …