Book Review: The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology
September 21, 2017
Ulrich L. Lehner, Richard A. Muller, and A. G. Roeber, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology, 1600-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). $140.28. 668pp. Hardcover.
Studying classic Reformed theology is one of the most important things that Reformed ministers and students can take up. Yet contrary to popular misconceptions, Medieval theology was not simply a black void that the Protestant Reformed filled with light. Classic Reformed theology was catholic in that it drew critically from the entire Christian tradition. While the Reformation brought real and vital theological developments, we cannot understand classic Reformed thought without establishing a broader theological context. This includes studying post-Reformation Lutheran and Roman Catholic theology. Building these contexts enriches our understanding of historic Reformed theology. Understanding classic Reformed thought in its historical development and contexts is vital for developing and evaluating strands of Reformed thinking today. Reformed orthodoxy provides Reformed pastors and students with a model of taking what Christ has taught his church through the ages and filtering it through Scripture.
The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology finally brings all of these strands of thought into a single introductory volume. This makes this volume an ideal starting place for any who want to understand various strands of early modern theology better. It also includes fruitful reflection that will stimulate the most seasoned scholars in this field. One of the primary advantages of this book is that it places post-Reformation Reformed, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic orthodoxy side by side through a multitude of voices representing all three of these traditions. This makes this Handbook a unique resource that illustrates the differences and crossover between strands of early modern theology.
This book is fairly comprehensive in scope. The first three chapters set a broad context for post-Reformation theology. The second major division of the book treats the overarching contours of Early Modern Roman Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, and “other Christian” theologies. The first three of these sections includes general introductions to each movement. The third and final division of the work shows the interaction between these theological traditions and other movements, including Judaism, Islam, Enlightenment thought, and others. The book concludes with several chapters treating the interaction between theology and the rise of new philosophies and approaches to science and natural law. The last chapter highlights the effects of these movements on eighteenth century theological developments. Taken as a whole, this material sketches well the rise, development, and transformation of theology in its Early Modern contexts.
The Oxford Handbook leaves the development of particular theological questions open for further investigation. This includes every theological locus in each tradition treated as well as related areas, such as exegesis and philosophy. With some notable exceptions, the question of the relationship between theology and piety in various branches of thought is left largely underdeveloped. This reflects the limited scope of this book as an introduction to its subject rather than marking a deficiency in the work. The seed thoughts presented for further development in such areas will enable students and scholars to pursue their own studies more fruitfully. The only area that this reviewer would have liked to have seen more development of is the influence of medieval thought on early modern theology. While medieval theology and philosophy permeates many of the chapters, more direct interaction with medieval trends would have been helpful.
This reviewer has anticipated reviewing this book above most of others. While this work touches cross confessional traditions, students of Reformed Orthodoxy in particular cannot afford to be without this book. It is a scholarly benchmark that provides us with most of the tools that we need to engage in serious study. Its chapters contain an almost complete library of relevant issues to early modern theology across confessional lines. While it is appropriate and necessary to retain and teach the distinctive features of our own confessional traditions, we cannot appreciate the nuanced depths of these traditions without setting the context more broadly than we often do. This book will greatly help students, pastors, and scholars as they continue to plumb the depths of our catholic Christian heritage. This is likely the single most important resource available to date to help us do so.