Theology without Borders

An Introduction to Global Conversations

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William A. Dyrness, Oscar García-Johnson
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Baker Academic
    , December
     2015.
     192 pages.
     $21.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780801049323.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

This is a unique book. Authors William A. Dyrness and Oscar García-Johnson both teach at Fuller Theological Seminary, and they both bring valuable insights to this conversational text. It is not only a conversation between Dyrness and García-Johnson, but it is more fundamentally a conversation between Western theologies and majority world (non-Western) theologies. Throughout the book, Western perspectives (especially those of Karl Barth, Jürgen Moltmann, and Karl Rahner) are placed in dialogue with Latin American, African, and Asian theologies.

The authors begin with the premise that both Western and majority world theologies are needed in the global theological conversation. Neither the Western-dominated status quo, nor the complete reversal of that status quo, is desirable. Taking an approach that is decolonial, mestizo, and transnational, García-Johnson asserts that the influence of Western theologies cannot be erased even if that were desirable. Instead, we should recognize a situation of mutual influences and critical interactions. Dyrness draws on his experience of teaching theology in the Philippines to argue that theological diversity is rooted in diverse social contexts and ecclesial models.

After setting this tone in two introductory chapters, Dyrness and García-Johnson explore the idea of tradition from different angles. They acknowledge the importance of the dominant Euro-American account of church tradition, but they complicate the story by showing how theological traditions have developed in Latin American and African contexts. Because tradition itself is a plural reality, they argue, theology ought to be done in conversation with these geographically diverse traditions.

With a chapter on the doctrines of God and creation, they begin to show what such conversations could look like. They demonstrate the continuity between pre-colonial, pre-Christian conceptions of God and the later theological tradition in Latin America. Then they critique the deistic tendency of Western Christianity through reflections on biblical doctrines of God and creation in interaction with modern Western theologians. These perspectives are compared with the accounts of African theologians on the presence of God in the world.

From there, Dyrness and García-Johnson move on to christology, contrasting the objectivity of Western portraits of Jesus (N. T. Wright’s work is noted) with the highly contextual approaches of Latin American theologians. They indicate that these differences are rooted in a divergence regarding what theology is in the first place.

Their chapter on the church makes this divergence even more concrete. They propose that the church is becoming increasingly transnational and rooted in “glocal” (both global and local) realities. While some church forms are more traditional than others, the authors advocate for understanding these differences as a spectrum rather than a binary opposition between ecclesial forms.

Finally, Dyrness and García-Johnson consider eschatology in global context. They contrast Moltmann’s eschatology, developed in a secularizing Europe, with the work of African theologian John Mbiti. According to Mbiti, African thinking is not oriented toward the future, but rather toward the past, with human life moving toward one’s ancestors, casting quite a different light on eschatology. Eschatology is similarly muted in Latin American theology, but is present there in the form of the utopian hope that liberation theologies offer in the present. Finally, Asian eschatology is considered in relation to contexts in which ancestor veneration and non-Christian religious traditions complicate the reception of imported eschatologies.

As an attempt to invite readers (including students of theology) into a broad global theological conversation, this book is effective. Readers will be exposed to limited aspects of modern Western theology, but to many prominent voices in Latin American, African, and Asian theologies, as well as the theologies of people of color in North America. The authors successfully weave various theologians and theological traditions into explorations of several doctrines. This has the cumulative effect of immersing readers into as much theological depth as possible in a short work like this one. For instance, readers will experience the importance of ancestors not only in African christology, but also in African eschatology, and not only there, but also in Asian eschatology. They will notice the importance of poverty to Latin American liberation theologians, but also for some African theologians. And the diversity of theological traditions covered merits the inclusion of an appendix that briefly and helpfully introduces five major theological streams: Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Reformation and Evangelical traditions, the Radical Reformation/Anabaptism, and Pentecostalism.

This book should be widely read by seminary students, as well as upper-level undergraduates in theology and religion. It would also be helpful for clergy who lacked a global perspective in their own theological education.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Stephen Waldron has an MA in Systematic Theology from Marquette University.

Date of Review: 
October 24, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

William A. Dyrness (DTheol, University of Strasbourg; Doctorandus, Free University) is dean emeritus and professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and is the author of several books on global theology.

Oscar García-Johnson (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is associate dean of the Center for the Study of Hispanic Church and Community at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he also serves as associate professor of theology and Latino/a studies. He is the author of The Mestizo/a Community of the Spirit: A Latino/a Postmodern Ecclesiology and other writings from the Global South.

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