New Studies in Dogmatics (Zondervan Academic)

“Divine Fate has decreed that during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it would be the task of German theologians to write dogmatics and for Anglo-Saxons to translate them.”

That is the opening line from Francis Schüssler Fiorenza’s review of Helmut Thielicke’s The Evangelical Faith (vol. 3) and Otto Weber’s Foundations of Dogmatics (vol. 1). You can read it in the journal, Horizons, from the spring issue of 1985. It is a humorous line — because overstated but not far from the truth. This is not to say that during these two centuries the Anglophone world was bereft of quality work in systematic theology. The Scots in particular were active in the discipline and even doing the yeoman’s work in translating the Germans.

But now, in the twenty-first century, there seems to be a considerable revitalization of dogmatics in the Anglosphere. This is certainly true among American evangelicals, and it is a welcome redirection of attention away from an unhealthy obsession with epistemology and apologetics. (Is not Carl Henry’s God, Revelation and Authority basically a theology in the service of apologetics?) The latest example of this renewed interest in “constructive theology” or “revealed theology” is the new series from Zondervan Academic, aptly entitled, “New Studies in Dogmatics.” The title is meant to recall the now-classic “Studies in Dogmatics” series from G. C. Berkouwer.

According to the initial press release, it is a projected 15-volume series under the advisory supervision of John Webster, Kevin Vanhoozer, Katherine Sonderegger, and Henri Blocher. The editors are Michael Allen and Scott Swain, both at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. You can read their introduction to the series, including the list of volumes, at the Common Places blog. Unlike Berkouwer’s project, each volume in the new series will be written by a different theologian.

The first volume, The Holy Spirit, is by Christopher R. J. Holmes and is to be released tomorrow (Oct. 6).

Christopher Holmes - The Holy Spirit




    • Yeah, that’s pretty much my ideal team. Plus, Henri Blocher is a phenomenal scholar, even if entirely too dense in his prose. I have also enjoyed the work of Allen and Swain, who represent a promising future for the direction of conservative Presbyterian theology in America, hopefully breaking the yoke of Van Til.

      • Just a question, what are the negative effects of Van Til on theology? From what I gather from your old posts, it seems his approach doesn’t really allow the non-believer to really have any sort of legitimate knowledge even in areas like science and history. Van Til’s reaction to hearing that Barth did affirm a bodily resurrection was also completely ridiculous, as if he couldn’t let go of his preconceived notions of Barth in the face of clear cut evidence.

        I have many friends who are Van Tillians, including one at WTS, and they have been pushing me to read Van Til. Only problem is that Barth has already captured me. 😉

      • I am far from an expert in Van Til’s theology/apologetics. It’s been a while since I read any of his works, and I was immediately turned off by it. From what I’ve gathered in his works, the little I’ve skimmed, it is possible for the non-Christian to have legitimate knowledge (in philosophy, science, history, etc.), but this knowledge is only consistently grounded on the basis of trinitarian Christian theology (unbeknownst to the non-Christian). Van Til’s acolytes at WTS can explain this better than I can. As for Barth (and why he couldn’t believe that Barth actually affirmed an empty tomb on Easter morn), Van Til interpreted Barth as bounded (trapped!) by Kantian categories pertaining to the conditions for knowledge, which (among other things) results in a radical separation between the eternal and the historical. There is some truth to Barth being a “Kantian,” and every modern theologian is wrestling with the subjective conditions for religious knowledge (certainty), including Van Til who is more Kantian than he would admit. Barth freely uses, especially in his Romans commentary, the language of both Kantian and existential thought, not unlike the early fathers using the language of Platonist thought. But whether Barth, especially in the CD, is making theological judgments on the basis of a prior commitment to these philosophical judgments (in the German philosophical tradition) is another matter entirely. Even within the Barth guild, there is heated controversy over these matters.

      • As someone somewhat (though no student) of Van Till, I’d say his apologetic method has some weight. It’s a refined “evangelized” use of the Socratic method to reveal presuppositions. But that’s where it should end.

        Van Till is a Fundamentalist and Sectarian engine. It makes the ignorant think they are wise. It gives people like Al Mohler et al. the ability to think they are able to comment on every social event and have something worthwhile to say because they understand the Christian “world-view”. In short, Van Til can make the novitiate into an arrogant, nosy, culture-warrior.

        This coming someone who won’t disown his insights (though they are not novel to him) completely.


      • Thank you, Cal. That is very well-expressed. I am fascinated by Van Til because of his common (perhaps superficial?) similarities to Barth, which is why I do not understand the intense animosity toward Barth from everyone at WTS, including the guys at Reformed Forum. Van Til is clearly operating in a Kantian framework (or Cartesian, if you prefer), without the honesty to admit it. The whole “presuppositional” project is “modernist” through and through. The delusion happens when this framework is all-determinative for every sector of knowledge, which is something that Barth wisely avoided. This is the wisdom of Schleiermacher, for all his serious faults, coming to the table.

        I am, unfortunately, piecemeal in my comprehension of all of this!

      • Yeah I remember hearing a professor from RTS saying he couldn’t accept climate change because it doesn’t fit within a “Judeo-Christian” worldview. I also have friends who are influenced by nouthetic counseling. Are these the sort of worldview thinking you’re talking about (I know I’m using crude examples)?

      • Yes, “worldview” thinking has some validity in the sense that we all have philosophical priors, even if we think our position is the “default” one, and examining them can be a worthwhile exercise. There is a sense in which CS Lewis was a presuppositionalist.

        For many presuppositionalists, though (can’t comment on Van Til specifically), “worldview” seems to mean a pre-packaged intellectual fortress where the answers to any question on anything are all predetermined. All dressed up in very pious language.

      • Yes, Ivan, those are good examples. And I like Joel’s comment about “a pre-packaged intellectual fortress.” That is what it is all about — protecting oneself and one’s kind, placing oneself on the side of the good and righteous, others among the errant and wicked. I actually agree with Al Mohler on a lot of things, including controversial social issues, but (as I have criticized on this blog before) I find his worldview-ism to be repugnant, to put it harshly.

        I know that my defense of Rome has become a broken record, but — seriously — the Roman Catholic approach to “worldview” matters is vastly superior to the evangelical Protestant alternative. The Catholics are the adults in the room, and the evangelicals are piddling at the kid’s table.

  1. Its going to be great with Webster/Vanhoozer involved. Catches me by surprise that they begin the series with the Holy Spirit. Is this a signal about the shape of the series or just a matter of convenience?

    • Hmm, I don’t know. But I would guess that it’s just a matter of convenience — perhaps simply because Holmes actually got his manuscript to the editors on time!

    • Actually, now that I think about it more — this volume may serve as the closest thing to a prolegomena (introductory matters) or “knowledge of God” for the series. If you look at the projected volumes, it is striking that there is not a single volume on the knowledge of God (as in 1.1/1.2 in Barth’s CD; or the General Revelation volume in Berkouwer’s set). So, perhaps it was indeed intentional to start with the Holy Spirit.

    • In Barth’s Table Talk, he talks about the possibility of beginning a dogmatics with the Holy Spirit. But these volumes, even once the series is complete, are probably not meant to be considered as forming a complete or unitary dogmatic theology, especially give the multiple authorship. Yet, the editors may very well have intentionally published the HS volume first, perhaps signalling its importance for twenty-first century theology. I don’t know.

      [UPDATE: See my further comment to jwheels67 above.]

    • I think it’s proven historically that if you don’t start with the Holy Spirit, you’ll end up dying before you get around to it. God’s Judgement (c.f. Acts 12)??? 😉

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