Introducing Theological Method

A Survey of Contemporary Theologians and Approaches

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Mary M. Veeneman
  • Ada, MI: 
    Baker Academic
    , November
     2017.
     208 pages.
     $24.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780801049491.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

As we enter the unknown world of the twenty-first century, questions about the nature and legitimacy of Christian theology press into view more than ever before. Divinity departments have largely been replaced by religious studies departments, various theories of religion have questioned the distinctiveness of numerous doctrinal systems, and modern criticism has turned the world of biblical studies upside down and inside out. What is left for committed, thoughtful Christians but to examine the remains in search for hot embers, and begin to rethink, rekindle, and reconstruct the whole concept of theology itself?

These were some of the catastrophic challenges tackled by twentieth century theologians, and Mary Veeneman’s Introducing Theological Method focuses on the mechanics, questions, and processes of what these thinkers offered in response. Her book is arranged according to synthetic categories: chapter 2, “Resourcement and Neo-Orthodox Theologies (Dulles, Barth, Pannenberg); chapter 3,  “Theologies of Correlation” (Tillich, Rahner, Lonergan); chapter 4, “Postliberal Theologies” (Lindbeck, Frei); chapter 5, “Evangelical Theologies” (Erickson, Grenz, Vanhoozer, Pinnock); chapter 6, “Political Theologies” (Metz, Gutierrez, Cone); chapter 7, “Feminist Theologies” (Johnson, Williams); chapter 8, “Theologies of Religious Pluralism and Comparative Theology” (includes discussions of Hick, Markham, Knitter, Fletcher, Clooney, and Vatican II).

Prior to this core content, Veeneman carefully unfolds the “context of modern theology” in an introduction and the “Work of Theology” in the first chapter. The extreme brevity of these portions indicate a conscious struggle to keep the volume at a very readable length. This serves as a sweet gift to most readers since books on theological methodology are rarely so brief. The focus on “contemporary theologians and approaches” (the book’s subtitle) also helps keep the book at a modest two hundred pages.

But as with any dessert, there’s a cost. Seasoned readers will note, for example, a number of substantial omissions. Jürgen Moltmann, Sally McFague, and other panentheists who might easily have earned a chapter for their innovative way(s) of dealing with the imminence/transcendence struggle of modern and late-modern theology (while doing so much more) are nowhere to be found. Inevitably, a great number of influential and original individuals also aren’t mentioned in the main text, including William Placher, David Bentley Hart, Sarah Coakley, Catherine Keller, Kathryn Tanner, Katherine Sonderegger, Amos Young, John Goldingay, Daniel Migliore, and Alistair McGrath, among others. And in the chapter on feminist theology, Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Rosemary R. Reuther, and the other dozen or so authors in (for example) the volume Feminist Theology:A Reader (WJK, 1990), are also entirely absent from the book (except for a passing footnote on 148, which cites Fiorenza). It seems highly questionable whether Elizabeth Johnson and Delores Williams are the best choices for representing feminist theological method to a beginning audience.

As indicated above, omissions like these can generally be expected if the goal is to catch a handful of large streams and summarize them in a short space. But these costs—especially ignorance of important thinkers and ideas who haven’t yet gotten enough traction to earn their own category—should at least be briefly mentioned lest readers get a skewed impression about “major players.” This is especially true since the focus is not merely on methods but on, as the subtitle indicates, “theologians.”

Nevertheless, these quibbles should not distract from the beautiful prose, incisive scholarship, and clearly delineated methods of “doing theology.” The book is by all means a success, and like some endorsers on the jacket of the book, I wish I would have read it years ago, before becoming a systematic theologian. Unless one is as well-read and familiar with the subject as Veeneman is, readers can expect to learn quite a bit in a short space. The book is also particularly balanced in its citation of primary source material to supplement the general narrative—a delightful touch for those who want a taste of the various authors’ actual voices.

Introducing Theological Method is very similar to Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson’s Twentieth Century Theology (IVP Academic, 1997), but focuses more on the “first things” of the theological discipline. Its organization is less thematic, and it is shorter and more readable. Veeneman’s text is a great one-stop solution for “catching up” any student or layperson on what’s been going on in the world of theology in the last century. Perhaps a primary source reader should supplement the book for a course on theological method, but all in all, Introducing Theological Method is a rare gem of notable value: a short, informed volume that successfully communicates and distills some of the most notoriously complicated topics in the humanities.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jamin A. Hübner is Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Associate Professor of Christian Studies at John Witherspoon College.

Date of Review: 
January 29, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Mary M. Veeneman is associate professor of biblical and theological studies and chair of the department at North Park University in Chicago, Illinois. She researches in the areas of theological method and theological ethics and also engages in questions concerning religious pluralism and interreligious dialogue.

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