Essay / Theology

Mapping Modern Theology

I’m glad to see that Baker Academic has released Kelly Kapic and Bruce McCormack’s Mapping Modern Theology: A Thematic and Historical Introduction.  This is a great textbook for understanding what’s happened in systematic theology over the last couple of centuries. I was honored to be invited to contribute a chapter (on the Trinity, of course). There’s a sweet spot here in the shared space between evangelical and mainline scholarship. The two editors, I think, symbolize this: Kapic is professor of theological studies at Covenant College, and McCormack is the Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. Between them, Kapic and McCormack have really assembled a great team of writers, and this looks like a book that’s going to help a lot of students and stay in use for quite a while.

There are a few other overviews of modern theology available, but Mapping is likely to establish itself as the go-to text for college and seminary, for one main reason: its thematic organization. Each chapter covers one major doctrine. The author traces that doctrine through the modern period, exploring how it was handled by important theologians and movements. Working straight through the book, you see the modern age unfold fifteen times in a row, with variations depending on what developments are relevant to a particular doctrine. The effect is not redundancy, but reinforcement. The fourth or fifth time Schleiermacher shows up, you admit you’re going to have to learn to pronounce his name because he really is that important. The seventh or eighth time Barth intervenes in a doctrinal trajectory, you realize his reputation is not just hype. The tenth or eleventh time you see the effects of historicism, existentialism, personalism, or whatever -ism on a doctrine, you get it. And all along, you’re getting solid explanations of major doctrines from experts in the field.

The book is carefully designed with students in mind, to solve problems that Kapic and McCormack have seen their students encounter over their years of teaching modern theology. In fact, Mapping Modern Theology is dedicated to the editors’ students. And as Kapic says in the Acknowledgments section, he used early drafts of the chapters in one of his upper division classes, and then fed his students’ reactions back to the chapter authors to give them a chance to make their chapters more helpful for the intended audience: “our hope is that the extra time this took in the production process makes the volume stronger.” As one of the authors, I know my chapter benefited from the feedback and revision.

I haven’t had a chance to read through every chapter yet, but the ones I have read are excellent. Here is the list of chapters and authors.

1. Introduction: On “Modernity” as a Theological Concept    Bruce L. McCormack
2. The Trinity    Fred Sanders
3. Divine Attributes    Stephen R. Holmes
4. Scripture and Hermeneutics    Daniel J. Treier
5. Creation    Katherine Sonderegger
6. Anthropology    Kelly M. Kapic
7. The Person of Christ    Bruce L. McCormack
8. Atonement    Kevin J. Vanhoozer
9. Providence    John Webster
10. Pneumatology    Telford Work
11. Soteriology    Richard Lints
12. Christian Ethics    Brian Brock
13. Practical Theology    Richard R. Osmer
14. Ecclesiology    Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen
15. Eschatology    Michael Horton

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