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The New Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine, edited by Michael Allen

by
26 May 2023

Andrew Davison notes the shifts in the New Cambridge Companion

THE excellent Cambridge Companions to religion and theology are having a renaissance. Since 1997, or thereabouts, the series has a new vigour. As many new titles came out in each of the past three years as in the whole five years before that, including a new run of Companions to influential individual works (such as Augustine’s Confessions and City of God) and to parts of the Bible (including biblical wisdom literature, Genesis, and the Gospels).

The New Cambridge Companions are other innovation: so far, to biblical interpretation, Thomas Aquinas, and — the volume under review — a New Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine. Sensibly, the Press (and Michael Allen, as editor) has commissioned an entirely fresh set of essays, even though — given the topic — many of the chapter titles remain the same (”Jesus Christ”, “Church and Sacraments”, “Eschatology”, and so on). This is a such strong collection and, of course, one more reflective of our moment in theological history, that, in a sense, it clearly replaces the earlier Companion. None the less, the Companion to Christian Doctrine, edited by Colin Gunton, properly remains in print.

Whereas the first Companion was divided into “historical and intellectual context” and “content of Christian doctrine”, we now have “doctrine” and “movements” (including “Feminist”, “Black”, and “Analytic”). While “Scripture” and “Israel” were previously in “context”, now they are among the “doctrines”.

There is a great deal going on in the renaming of the sections. In the New Companion, we jump straight into the content of Christian theology, which reflects the present zeal for doctrines, over prolegomena. Furthermore, whereas “context” suggested a setting, shared by a more monolithic “content of Christian doctrine”, the new emphasis on “movements” highlights the pluriformity of how those doctrines are elaborated and understood today, even if the main themes are still common.

Among these movements, we find Reformed Catholicity, which reflects a vibrant scene in contemporary Protestant theology (especially in the United States), keen to see the Reformation as a moment of renewal in the tradition, so that continuity can still be emphasised, if not with the theology of the late Middle Ages, then certainly with the high Middle Ages, and back to the Fathers.

Ressourcement Thomism represents something somewhat parallel in the use and interpretation of Aquinas: “the creative reappropriation of classical themes in theology within a modern landscape . . . [through] the recovery and inventive use of ideas derived from the work of Thomas Aquinas.” Both proceed in a spirit of “retrieval” from the past, as, in their way, do two other “movements”: Radical Orthodoxy and Theological Interpretation of Scripture.

Among the doctrine chapters, some are structured thematically (e.g. Simon Oliver on creation and providence), while others work through figures (e.g. John Behr on humanity). Katharine Sonderegger weaves together a historical and thematic discussion in her dense but rather magnificent chapter on Christology.

Currently, teachers and learners wanting a set of essays of modest overall length, generally from a traditional but not reactionary perspective, simply cannot do better.
 

The Revd Dr Andrew Davison is Starbridge Associate Professor in Theology and Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, and currently Visiting Fellow at the Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton, New Jersey.

 

The New Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine
Michael Allen, editor
CUP £26.99
(978-1-108-79464-0)
Church Times Bookshop £24.29

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