Beloved Community

Critical Dogmatics after Christendom

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Paul R. Hinlicky
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
    , May
     960 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Distinguished Lutheran theologian Paul Hinlicky offers his magnum opus, Beloved Community, as the culmination of his life-long scholarly practice of theology with the intention of demonstrating how Christian dogmatics should be practiced considering the current decline and demise of institutional and culturally synthetic Christendom, particularly in its Euro-American iteration. Hinlicky has written not simply another Christian systematic theology, but a tour de force in which he attempts to take the best of the Lutheran tradition, put it into dialogue with other Christian theologians outside Lutheranism, and thereby turn the whole of the received tradition of Christian orthodox theology on its head in order to free it from its current “Babylonian Captivity,” either to the ever-shifting winds of progressive political correctness or to entrenched and obscurantist denominational fundamentalisms. Hinlicky is in search of a third way beyond these false binaries in his unique system of dogmatics.

After introducing the work, part 1 looks at Prolegomena with chapter 1 discussing the knowledge of God. Here Hinlicky defines theology as “critical dogmatics” that upholds and demonstrates that theology desires to bind the human’s conscience to a correct knowledge of the true God and does so by sustaining a single cognitive claim regarding this God’s identity. Hinlicky believes that the cultural posture of post-Christendom and postmodernism in contemporary Euro-America fortuitously and providentially provides the church in general, and her theologians in particular, with the opportunity to do theology by retrieving the legacies of the scriptural, patristic, and Reformation eras. In chapter 2, Hinlicky teases these convictions out by looking at the theologies of Augustine and Luther contra the modern-Enlightenment construal of the supposedly sovereign self, and then turns to ask and answer four central questions for Christian theology: Is God possible? Is Christ necessary? Does faith justify? Are the Scriptures holy?

With part 2, Hinlicky reveals the most innovative aspect of this work by beginning with pneumatology, particularly the doctrine of baptism. In chapter 3, Hinlicky contends that the human becomes a theological subject through and in the event of water baptism, which is the sign that corresponds to the thing signified, namely union with the crucified and risen Christ. Hinlicky also touches on early Christian practices of baptism, the baptismal views of Martin Luther, Menno Simons, Karl Barth, and the perennial debate over the validity of the baptism of infants. Chapter 4 sees Hinlicky extend his pneumatology to such topics as sanctification, the mission of the church, and the ordination of women, grounding his conclusions on the Spirit’s role in the immanent Trinity as the unifier of the Father and the Son.

Part 3 looks to Christology with chapter 5 focusing on Mary as Theotokos (i.e., God-bearer), as well as exegesis of select New Testament texts (e.g., John 6). The overall thrust of the chapter, however, is Hinlicky’s argument for the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the eucharistic elements when the Spirit unifies Christ with those elements in the forming of the theological subject. Chapter 6 provides Hinlicky’s thoughts on the union of the Son of God with the human Jesus of Nazareth. Hinlicky draws heavily upon Cyril of Alexandria’s logos Christology, pairs it with Augustine’s theological anthropology, and then discusses the threefold office of Christ (i.e., prophet, priest, and king).

Part 4 rounds out the trinitarian and creedal outline of this work with Hinlicky discussing Patrology (the doctrine of God the Father). Chapter 7 sees Hinlicky exposit Mathew’s version of the “Lord’s Prayer” because God the Father is the audience whom the theological subject addresses in doxological prayer and praise. Chapter 8 discusses the doctrine of creation, the problem of evil, the existence of God, and the divine attributes. In the conclusion, Hinlicky provides a short analysis and argument for God being not only at the beginning of creation but also at and as the end of creation, which is participation in his eternal life.

Hinlicky provides the discipline of Christian theology with a unique and challenging work of systematic theology that will surely be discussed and referenced for years to come. From his concern to chart a path between the Scylla of slavishly enculturated Christianity and the Charybdis of militant reactionary fundamentalisms, Hinlicky does well to provide the reader with a fresh and innovative way of doing systematic theology, especially in the Protestant tradition of Luther. Moreover, his inversion of the traditional trinitarian and creedal structure of theology from Father-Son-Spirit to Spirit-Son-Father provides new vistas and perspectives that will hopefully help to generate solutions to seemingly eternal doctrinal and ethical issues in the Christian faith. 

Beloved Community is a dense and demanding read, written by a life-long scholar of theology for other scholars of theology. Let the reader be duly warned then that unless they have at least some formal theological education they may easily become lost in Hinlicky’s rhetorical verve and cleverness. Furthermore, it would be beneficial for the reader to have a working knowledge of the Lutheran tradition, especially the debates between the Lutheran and Reformed traditions regarding their respective views on the Lord’s Supper. These warnings aside, Hinlicky displays flashes of brilliance and genius regarding the pneumatological healing of the Kantian chasm between the sign and the thing signified, but he is also highly influenced by Hegel’s philosophy, especially when he continually seeks after a “higher synthesis” regarding the hypostatic union of Jesus Christ. This is an atypical systematic theology because Hinlicky does not discuss every locus of theology, omitting, for example, the order of salvation and the charismata. This book is recommended for professional scholars in Christian theology, especially those in the Lutheran tradition.

About the Reviewer(s): 

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

Date of Review: 
June 18, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Paul R. Hinlicky is Tise Professor of Lutheran Studies at Roanoke College, Salem, Virginia. His previous books include Divine Complexity: The Rise of Creedal Christianity.



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