The Oxford Handbook of the Epistemology of Theology

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Editor(s): 
William J. Abraham, Frederick D. Aquino
Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology
  • Oxford, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , August
     2017.
     720 pages.
     $150.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780199662241.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Recently, a new subdiscipline has arisen that combines the disciplines of philosophical epistemology and Christian theology to make what has been coined “the epistemology of theology.” Drawing upon the Aristotelian concept of “epistemic fit,” the editors of this volume envision an interdisciplinary dialogue wherein epistemologists bring the fruits of their philosophical labor to bear upon the long and vast subject matter of Christian theology. Moreover, the editors believe that even though Christian theology has been concerned with its unique epistemological topics and issues, there remains a glaring lacuna in the literature in which epistemologists and theologians constructively interact with one another. The epistemology of theology is thus not a wholly new discipline but is a bringing to greater consciousness of the epistemic concepts and theories that relate to theology. By drawing upon traditional theological categories (i.e., reason, experience, tradition, scripture, and revelation), along with the traditional epistemological categories (i.e., wisdom, understanding, virtue, evidence, testimony, scepticism, and disagreement), it is the hope of the editors and the contributors to this Handbook that the crosspollination of epistemology and theology will enrich conversation between these venerable disciplines.

This Handbook is divided into forty-one chapters over four parts. Part 1 is comprised of ten chapters that are concerned with epistemic concepts within theology such as the knowledge of God, revelation and scripture, reason and faith, the experiential grounding of religious belief, saints and saintliness, authority in religious communities, the inner witness of the Spirit, and tradition. Part 2 has nine chapters and discusses more general epistemic concepts that relate to theology. Part 3 returns to Christian theology with seventeen chapters on key theologians and their respective epistemologies over the two millennia history of the religion. Figures discussed are Paul the Apostle, Origen, Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, Symeon the New Theologian, Anselm, Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, Richard Hooker, Teresa of Ávila, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Søren Kierkegaard, John Henry Newman, Karl Barth, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Part 4 and its five chapters conclude the work by looking at certain “emerging conversations” in the epistemology of theology. The topics discussed are: liberation theology, continental philosophy, modern Orthodox thinkers, feminist theology, and Pentecostalism.

Like many other Handbooks, this one is an excellent example of world-class scholarship. The editors have assembled some of the best scholars in the fields of epistemology and theology respectively, and their essays are precise and praiseworthy for how they engage in quite arcane and rarified topics by making them accessible—but not simplistic—for their readers. The wide range of topics and figures discussed in the book, especially how many current issues in epistemology and theology are given voice and how they mutually inform one another are appreciated. Moreover, this work has set the standard for this new academic subdiscipline that will hopefully inform and stimulate further. It is also neatly balanced with an almost equal number of chapters devoted to epistemology and theology respectively; therefore, should the reader be more inclined toward epistemology or theology or vice versa, they can settle into certain parts of the work before moving onto the other parts. 

There are a few minor shortcomings. Although the theological epistemology of the figures discussed in part III are impressive, there are some glaring omissions that we believe would have been beneficial for this work. Primarily, we are surprised that there is no essay on either Martin Luther or John Calvin as representatives of the era of the Protestant Reformation in general and the Lutheran and Reformed traditions in particular. Furthermore, we are shocked to find that there is no essay in the epistemology section of part 2 on postmodernism or coherentism. These omissions aside, this is still an impressive work on a new subdiscipline that will hopefully generate further interest in and research on this burgeoning field that attempts to heal the educational and ecclesiastical breach between epistemology and Christian theology.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Bradley M. Penner is Adjunct Professor of Theology at Briercrest College and Seminary.

Date of Review: 
September 10, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

William J. Abraham is Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies and University Distinguished Professor in Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. His publications include Divine Revelation and the Limits of Historical Criticism(2000) and Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology (OUP, 1998).

Frederick D. Aquino is professor of theology and philosophy at the Graduate School of Theology, Abilene Christian University. He specializes in religious epistemology, the epistemology of theology, John Henry Newman, and Maximus the confessor. He is the co-editor of Receptions of Newman (OUP, 2015).

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