Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Book Review of the Journey of Modern Theology by Roger Olson

The Journey of Modern Theology
by Roger Olson
ISBN 978-0-8308-4021-2
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Roger Olson is a prolific writer and a passionate theologian. I have followed his work from his days at Bethel College and Seminary in St. Paul, MN, and have followed it with even more interest since he moved to Waco to teach at Truett Seminary at Baylor University.

I also long ago read 20th Century Theology. I had read it not in a seminary classroom, but as a pastor trying to make sense of where I was theologically, especially in relationship to some of the issues raised through postmodern philosophy and the emergent church movement (before it was called that). I loved the book, and its thesis of the development of modern theologies as a dialogue and dialectic between emphases on theology's understanding of the transcendence of God and the immanence of God made sense to me. It helped me become more grounded and able to articulate where I was in the context of modern theology and postmodern philosophy. 20th Century Theology was a game changer for me.

Now, in an update on the book's 20th anniversary, Olson has, in attempting to revise the old text, written a new text with the old text as the foundation. Instead of using a theological construct to tell what has happened in 19th, 20th and 21st century theologies, he has used a historical one in The Journey of Modern Theology . Since what is happening in both books is a historical theology of sorts, both organizational systems are appropriate. Olson's new construct makes the development of theology come across as a more relational and personal story of people and ideas in a historical context. Which is all well and good. But I think it misses the sense of wrestling with God that the text it has meant to revise had. However, I freely admit that I miss Grenz' voice in theological writing, and part of my struggle with the book at this point may be that I hear more of Olson and less of Grenz in the new text, and I grieve the loss of Grenz and his contribution.

Having said that, it only takes holding the books next to one another to show that Olson has expanded on his previous work in The Journey of Modern Theology. More is discussed regarding theological contributions of the 19th century, as it is also in conversation with the rise of modernity. And more of what is happening in theology today is shared as well. Those contributions are well-written, well thought out, and welcome.

The Journey of Modern Theology deserves a place on the pastor's and the theologian's bookshelf. It is a great book. On mine it will sit right next to 20th Century Theology. My hope is that IVP continues to publish both.

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