Baker Academic Theological Studies Collection (Book Review)

reviews

It was a pleasure to be asked to review The Baker Academic Theological Studies Collection from Logos Software. The bottom line is that this is a tremendous collection to have at your fingertips if you’re a student or teacher of theology, a pastor – or if you’re someone who simply enjoys reading theology of course, we do exist! The works are somewhat academic in tone, but not at the inaccessible end of the scale by any means. The works are published by branches of Baker Books (Baker Academic and Brazos), and if you have experience with these publishing houses you’ll realise that this means they are published to be read by mere mortals.

There are fifteen titles in the collection here so my review I’ll just comment briefly on each book individually, but there’s little doubt (especially since they come as a bundle!) that this collection as a collection presents something of more value than simply a small collection of decent theology books (although it is that).

  • Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung (ed), A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative “Left Behind” Eschatology (8 authors)
  • Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Christology: A Global Introduction: An Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective
  • Steven R. Guthrie, Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human
  • Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, The Doctrine of God: A Global Introduction: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Survey
  • Bruce L. McCormack (ed), Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant Perspectives (11 authors)
  • John G. Stackhouse Jr., Evangelical Ecclesiology: Reality or Illusion?
  • Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger, Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction
  • Jonathan R. Wilson, God so Loved the World: A Christology for Disciples
  • Timothy George (ed), God the Holy Trinity: Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice (10 authors)
  • Nonna Verna Harrison, God’s Many Splendored Image: Theological Anthropology for Christian Formation
  • Bruce L. McCormack (ed), Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges (11 authors)
  • Kelly M. Kapic and Bruce L. McCormack (ed), Mapping Modern Theology: A Thematic and Historical Introduction (14 authors)
  • Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective
  • Khaled Anatolios, Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine
  • Hans Boersma, Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition

One thing at the outset gave me pause. Hélène Dallaire was the only female contributor to A Case for Historic Premillennialism. No female authors appear in Contemporary Protestant Perspectives on the doctrine of God. Ellen T. Charry and Frederica Mathewes-Green each have an essay in God the Holy Trinity (meaning that with a representation of two out of nine, this book has the strongest female representation, other than the next book written by a female theologian). Nonna Verna Harrison has a title in this collection (God’s Many Splendored Image). Karla Wübbenhorst contributes to Justification in Perspective, and surprisingly given its title, Kate Sonderegger is the lone female voice in mapping Modern Theology. All told in this collection there are sixty-four authors (setting aside the fact that some authors that appear in one book also appear in another – that counts as two by my count), six of whom are women – just under ten percent. Make of this what you will (perhaps it will not bother you, perhaps it will), but it is an interesting (if somewhat familiar) commentary on the current state of published Christian (and especially evangelical) works of theology that are not directly about issues related to women or gender. Whether it could really be the case that female theologians in general have nothing to say (or nothing quite as worthy to say) about such a wide range of subjects is something for editors and Baker Academic / Brazos and those at Logos to ponder (assuming they have not already).

Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen has three of his own titles here and a chapter in Mapping Modern Theology, and other writers appear a couple of times each. In addition to the general desire for diversity among authors, the re-appearance of familiar faces may only further the wonder about why a couple more women weren’t drawn on (a wonder that may be shared by the authors themselves were they to see this collection, don’t get me wrong).

As for content, it is difficult to fault the collection in light of its apparent purpose. For its range of subjects and quality, the collection is surely ideal for students of theology. Looking back on my own general theology classes I’m fairly sure the majority of them are covered here: The doctrine of God, Christology, Pneumatology, the Trinity, the Atonement, Justification, Ecclesiology, Human nature, one school of thought in Eschatology (which may make A Case for Historic Premillennialism the odd one out here as it advocates for one contentious view among many) and general theology.

In a collection this size, I wouldn’t trust a person alone with my wallet if they professed to agree with it all, but that is clearly not the point of this resource.

A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative “Left Behind” Eschatology

As a case in point about not agreeing with what I find in this collection, A Case for Historic Premillennialism edited by Blomberg and Chung is a case that fails, so say I. But as a resource on what that case looks like, I doubt you could find a better collection of contemporary material than this. Richard Hess’s chapter on the Old Testament basis of premillennialism does not interact with the way that more traditional (and yes, I am taking non-premillennial views to be more historically mainstream) eschatologies have handled these texts. Donald Fairbain’s chapter on the view of the early church, in my view, could have been kinder to those whose assessment he does not share.1 It is also somewhat frustrating that Fairbain joins others in assuming that Irenaeus must have held to a premillennial view because he spoke of a future earthly kingdom after the return of Christ. This, naturally, is consistent with a theology in which the kingdom following the return of Christ is itself the eternal state, which may well be what Irenaeus envisions. This conflation of a future earthly kingdom with a temporary earthly kingdom suggests a problem that is widespread in the exegesis of Scripture itself, and no less so here: A tendency for a developed theology to fill in the gaps when one finds some points of contact with that theology in the text before us. And yet, for the seminary student who wants to know how premillennialists may be inclined to read the fathers (and maybe even how best to respond to their claims), the material is detailed and lucid. What’s more, historical chapters on popular millennial movements (Weber) or the relationship between millennial theology and mission (Campos) are very welcome additions to the discussion, as is Chung’s discussion of how a Reformed theologian might move towards premillennialism (regrettably marred by a painfully simplistic reference to those who “spiritualize the plain teaching of Revelation 20:1–6,” as though we should all grant that such literature has a meaning that is “plain”!).

But the value in books like this one – even from the perspective of those who think the thesis of the book is wide of the mark – is that it provides an up to date measure of the state of the discussion, having the position set out by its most able proponents.

God’s Many Splendored Image: Theological Anthropology for Christian Formation

Part of the appeal of Nonna Verna Harrison’s book for me, admittedly, is my own interest in the subject of theological anthropology. Harrison brings the subject of theological anthropology – what it means to be human from a God’s-eye point of view – to a wide audience here, holistically incorporating the arts and sciences as examples of how the human potential, and indeed the knowledge of God therein, is realised. I especially liked the emphasis on humanity as something embodied, where salvation cannot be seen apart from the redemption of the body.

There’s a temptation – one that I give into but wish that I did not – to assume that because I am reading the work of a female theologian, there is bound to be some sort of “womanist” or feminist angle waiting to be unleashed. As though female theologians had nothing better to talk about! When the shackles of such perceived obligations are nowhere in sight, it’s refreshing to see the freedom with which Harrison discusses such issues as that of Leadership in Equality, describing the Trinity as persons who are equal yet with the Father in a leadership role.

Yet there is also leadership in the Trinity. God the Father begets the Son and breathes forth the Holy Spirit. He gives each of them all that he is so that they are forever his equals. So while the Father exercises leadership in the Trinity, he is simultaneously the source of equality among the divine persons. He comes first, and the other two come with him.

Away then, with those who (with Ben Witherington or Millard Erickson as I have commented elsewhere) seem to think that they need to, on behalf of women in the church, wage war on the idea of leadership within the Trinity as though it were a concept concocted to oppress women.

Harrison’s style is personal, warm and even pastoral, and this work is as much at home in the history of theology as it is in spiritual formation (hence the title, no doubt!).

Christology: A Global Introduction: An Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective

Having already commented on the frequent appearance of Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen in this collection, let me now say that his volume on Christology is stellar. The book’s purpose is not to develop a biblical or systematic Christology from the author’s point of view, although to an extent the biblical task is handled in section 1, “Christ in the Bible.” The book as a whole really is a “Global Introduction,” covering (fairly exhaustively at that) movements within Christology in history and the world today. Part two (“Christ in History”) follows the formation of orthodox Christology through the major disputes and times since then, and then offers an account of the “quests” for the historical Jesus, culminating in the collapse of the original project, one driven by liberal New Testament scholarship, and giving birth to the most recent version of the quest (the “third quest,” equated with the “new perspective”), where such scepticism is not at all a prerequisite.

Part three surveys major figures in modern Christology, from the dialectical approach of Barth and the mythological (or rather, demythologising) approach of Bultmann, to the Evangelical Stanley Grenz and the Universalist John Hick (and others in between, ten leading figures in all). Section four closes out the volume with an exploration of the various “contextualised” Christologies of feminism, Black Christology, Process theology and others; movements that seek to reinvent Christology for a Christian subculture.

This is an indispensable resource for both students and teachers of Christology.

Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine

I’ll make my final comments on Khaled Anatolios’s book on Nicaea, one of the more recent works included (2011). This is most certainly a work of historical theology as opposed to a history of theological movements. Anatolios provides an impressive education to any who desire one. Why did the developments for which Nicea is famous take place? What exactly were the controversies that gave rise to Nicea? With depth and clarity, Anatolios then explores just what the council Nicea said (the summary answer that Nicea disagreed with the Arians by saying that Christ is homoousios with the Father hardly scratches the surface).

What follows is a historical and intellectual delight as the author takes the reader through the thought of Athanasius, (my personal favourite), Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine, through whom the implications of the Nicean doctrine of God and its Christology are hammered out. We see their approach to Scripture, to knowledge (epistemology) and their systematic explanation of the proclamations made by Nicea – while at the same time acknowledging and generously handling the different directions taken by these theologians. But what should our emphasis be? In what direction should we take the legacy of Nicea? Anatolios closes his work by acknowledging the possibility of diversity and suggesting some guiding principles here in regard to revelation, Scripture, tradition (and ecclesial interpretation of Scripture), worship, the primacy of Christ, the person of the Holy Spirit, creation, Christian salvation, humanity in the image of the Trinity (and thankfully there is not a peep about humanity being made of different substances, which in any event would undercut rather than reinforce the comparison), and divine being as trinity.

I cannot hope to do justice to every book in this collection, so hopefully the sample that I have covered will be of some use, along with me assurances (would I lie to you?!) that the remainder of the books here have many similar things to be said about them. There are moments in reading through them where I pause and suspect that I would disagree with the author (is Steven Guthrie right that Athanasius in replying to theological opponents about the Holy Spirit was really concerned that they placed too much weight on rational considerations? I’m not convinced of that – in spite of generally agreeing with Guthrie’s take on the balance of rational and noncognitive factors in our appreciation of the Holy Spirit), but these do not detract from the obvious quality and usefulness of the material. It is a bit trite to say that this collection is a “must have,” because the volume of work available in most of these areas is simply huge (although I think Nonna Verna Harrison’s book stands out as fairly unique), but if you want a collection to very ably cover the subject areas addressed here, you would be hard pressed for a better option to do it all in one fell swoop.

See (or purchase) the collection over at the Logos website.

Glenn Peoples

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  1. Fairbain claims that those who do not find in the early church Fathers in general a consensus in favour of premillennialism “equate silence about the millennium with a denial of an earthly kingdom,” simply on the grounds that such scholars note such silence and conclude that the theologian in question did not teach a future earthly millennium. Rather than taking such silence as evidence of denial, these scholars infer that teaching in favour of a premillennial view was absent, and hence evidence of any consensus in favour of that view simply does not exist – a fair assessment by any standard. []
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