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SCM Studyguide: Theology in the Contemporary World, by Ben Pugh

15 June 2018

Matt Bullimore looks at more theological topics for beginners

THIS SCM study guide is not a theology of contemporary culture, but a survey of directions that theology has taken in the past 75 years or so. Its aim is to orient students new to theology in those knotty debates and “key conversations” that they will probably encounter but that can be dauntingly over-technical or seemingly obscure. As a guide, it does not pretend to be exhaustive.

Ben Pugh covers the quests for the historical Jesus, the missional Church, theologies about the Spirit and those that deliberately begin with the Spirit, liberation and feminist theologies, issues of sexuality, including queer theology, post-modern articulations of the faith, and non-violent atonement theories. (And, yes, of course we could all cite the omission of our favoured topics, texts, and thinkers.)

Impatient with abstraction, Pugh offers exercises and reflections throughout that help the student to focus on why these debates matter for Christian practice today. He leavens the book with helpful entry points into further exegetical reflection. There are many insights to be garnered, especially in those chapters about which Pugh has written elsewhere (Charismatic theologies and theologies of the atonement).

As an introductory guide, it works well, but there is, I think, one significant misstep. The chapter on sexuality begins with the working presumption that gay people are generally to be found outside the Church (unless they happen to be queer theologians). He encourages empathy by asking Christians to imagine that they are approaching the Church as a gay person. This is very different from attending to the multiplicity of gay Christian voices already present within a complex field. Perhaps on less sure ground, wider survey is sacrificed for exegesis.

This is a book more for the classroom — from which it has sprung — and a helpful aid for the teacher. Naturally, Pugh’s “take” (helpfully recapitulated in the conclusion) will not always be one’s own. Yet this is a useful tool for what it means to do, which is to open up crucial theological topics to fruitful and faithful debate.

The Revd Dr Matt Bullimore is a priest in the diocese of Ely.

SCM Studyguide: Theology in the Contemporary World
Ben Pugh
SCM Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £18

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