Christian Dogmatics

An Introduction

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Cornelis van der Kooi, Gijsbert van den Brink
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
    , April
     2017.
     854 pages.
     $45.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780802872654.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Perhaps the staple of Christian dogmatics is the single volume textbook. They don’t appear every year. Most theologians don’t write one. But when they do arrive, they tend to have wide and lingering significance. Particularly for those in the Reformed tradition, which tilts verbose and trades heavily in the dialogue of theological handbooks, these texts take on ecclesiastical and philosophical importance in ways perhaps unsurpassed by those of any other religious tradition.

Cornelis van der Kooi and Gijsbert van den Brink of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam have offered a notable installment in this genre, representing a confessional and conversant version of Reformed dogmatics. First published in Dutch in 2011 and now translated into English, Christian Dogmatics freshly updates earlier one-volume dogmatics textbooks. It engages topics widely, from patristic discussions to the history of ideas to interacting with myriad modern voices.

The scope and sequence of the volume follows a reasonably classical sequence. Chapters address the following themes: introduction to dogmatics, prolegomena, triunity, attributes of God, revelation, creation, anthropology, sin and evil, covenant, person of Christ, work of Christ, Holy Spirit, scripture, church, the application of salvation, and eschatology. A couple choices perhaps mark it out from classic volumes; note that scripture occurs within the cluster of themes associated with the Holy Spirit’s work rather than in any initial, prolegomenal ordering, and note also the significance of the existence of God as the predominant concern in the prolegomenal chapter. Compared to other such textbooks (for instance, the most recent installments from the Working Group for Constructive Theology), the loci here basically follow the classical scope and sequence.

The shape of the volume merits our attention as well. Each of the sixteen chapters begin with a series of “Aims” or learning objectives, followed by a number of prompts meant to help with “making connections.” The chapters then proceed through clearly organized sections and sub-sections before concluding with a pertinent bibliography for that theme. The volume also includes an extensive, more wide-ranging bibliography at its end. The translation into English is remarkably smooth (with but a few slipshod renderings that stutter or stumble from a literary perspective or in terms of logical clarity: e.g., 9, 228).

This textbook offers a blend of historical and systematic theology and, quite frequently, a compressed but lively synopsis of exegetical or cultural conversations. On occasion the volume tends to err on the side of portraying the options out there without offering too much constructive judgment and theological argument. More often, however, it gives a wide-ranging, commendably fair-minded sketch of various approaches and arguments as well as its own suggested course. Admittedly, the sheer limits of attempting to address all such areas of interest in less than 1000 pages means that arguments are compressed. That compressed breadth is the strength and weakness of the genre, and this volume manages to toe the line of surveying the field and also presenting about as particular a case as one will find. Students here get a sense of the state of the field as well as a principled argument with which to engage.

As a theologian who also carries the task of teaching across the terrain of all the loci, I have many judgments historically, exegetically, and synthetically that overlap and at times diverge from those of this textbook. That such dialogical reading, wherein I can imagine interaction and debate with their claims and criticisms, marks out the strength of this volume. 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Michael Allen is associate professor of systematic and historical theology at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.

Date of Review: 
September 24, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Cornelis van der Kooi is professor of systematic theology and director of the Center for Evangelical and Reformation Theology at the Free University of Amsterdam.

Gijsbert van den Brink is university research chair in theology and science at the Theological Faculty of the Free University of Amsterdam.

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