Christian Theology in a North American Context. By Douglas John Hall. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
Thinking the Faith. 1989. 464 pp. $24.00 (paper).
Professing the Faith. 1993. 560 pp. $28.00 (paper).
Confessing the Faith.l 1996, 544 pp. $48.00 (cloth).
Canadian Douglas John Hall, a professor at McGill University in Montreal, is one of North America's leading Lutheran theologians. He is a prolific writer with ecumenical vision. Those unfamiliar with his earlier work2 can rely on this trilogy to appreciate the tenor and significance of Hall's constructive contributions. I believe that anyone concerned about the special challenges posed to Christian thought and life in North America as the new millennium approaches should study these volumes.
Perhaps Anglicans should show special interest, and not only because we are approaching the ratification of a Lutheran-Episcopal Concordat. Hall directly and indirectly engages the Anglican tradition at a number of junctures. Learned commentators have noted that Anglicanism has long pursued the thoroughly contextual approach which Hall champions.3 But at least since the appearance of Lux Mundi over a century ago (and quite probably before), Anglican divines have tended to derive their conception of the historicity of ecclesial reflection from a doctrine of the incarnation centered on the nativity. And Anglican piety tends to favor the resurrection. Hall advances an alternative foundation, namely the theology of the cross. He criticizes "resurrectionism," a "late adaptation of this long-standing tendency of Christian theology to remove the cross from the heart of God. It makes for a religion that is attractive to those within our society who are still moved by success stories" (PF, 96). Hall's unabashedly Protestant, post-Constantinian perspective should challenge Episcopal readers to ponder the extent to which, even in North America, we continue to operate from the perspective of the reigning social order, and what consequences this alliance has for the character of our public witness.
These initial comments should suggest that reading Hall can often be an unsettling experience. I fear that the bulk of these three volumes, which together comprise just over 1,500 pages, may further deter prospective readers. But on this score I can offer reassurance. Hall's prose is a model of clarity and accessibility. Given the often turgid and dense character of contemporary theological writing, it's refreshing to peruse such lucid, lively texts. Avoiding the temptation to write for other specialists, Hall aims to reach a broader audience composed of seminarians, clergy, and laity. In short, most persons can read these volumes at a good clip-especially when one realizes that the author (no doubt for good pedagogical reasons) often reiterates and repeats key themes. Moreover, as in the case of any good theological textbook, few will want to read the entire work in a single consecutive stretch of time. It is useful to peruse the first half of the first volume in order to catch on to Hall's approach; subsequently the clear organization of the set enables its repeated use as a reference work. In this manner Hall's work may become particularly useful for preachers and educators.
In any event no person interested in contemporary theology should miss the indispensable opening volume of the series. I have the distinct impression (shared by several of my colleagues in informal conversation) that the other two installments, though they offer a number of valuable insights, never quite live up to the promise of the project announced at the outset. Such a conclusion might not bother Hall at all, for the humility he displays is another heartening aspect of his authorship. He shares Karl Barth's assessment of theology's perpetual need for further revision. And he candidly admits that he never intended to produce the definitive work on the subject. Instead, he writes, "it has been my aim to speak out of, and to 'a North American context. …