Outline of Christian Doctrine: An Evangelical Dogmatics
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015, ( trans. Ruth Yule and Nicholas Sagosvsky).
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Wilfried Härle’s work is an overview of the central topics and challenges that pertain to the task of Christian dogmatics. The work at hand is particularly suited for those readers who are invested in the “how?,” “who?,” “why?” and “despite what?” of continental systematic theology as much as they are interested in the material content of Christian theology. In other words, it is for those readers that especially enjoy thinking about the possibility of theology and its potential fruitfulness in the world.
This is reflected in the fact that the work devotes its two opening chapters (62 pages) to the questions of (1) whether or not theology is a science, and (2) the essence of the Christin faith. These are quite dense, dealing with questions such as “The categorical distinction between essence and any appearance.” These opening chapters also reflects the progressive theological position that dominates German Universities such as the University of Heidelberg, where Härle taught for many years. For example, in this section Härle opens the door for his later claims that the historical character of the Christian faith (57) is such that it is ultimately contextual, and carried out in a manner strongly attuned to the “lifeworld” in which it takes place (149). Hence, Härle ultimately takes a strongly evolutionary approach to doctrine.
In the next three sections, Härle addresses the issues to do with the sources of Christian theology. These include Jesus Christ, the Bible, the confession of the church, and our context –our “lifeworld.” By this point the author has taken up 161 pages and has reached the end of the first section of the work (The Essence of the Christian Faith”).
The second section contains the material claims of the core topics in traditional theology. This section is entitled “Explication of the Christian Understanding of reality.” This includes nine chapters. These are ordered as follows: knowledge of God and the world, The Being of God, Christology, Pneumatology, the doctrine of the Trinity, Creation, Hamartiology, soteriology (which includes ecclesiology) and eschatology. The best portion of this book is found in this section. Here, Härle proposes his own novel approach to the use of metaphor (195 fff, esp. 210-213, 215). The liberal theological positions of the author continue throughout this section.
To my mind, this work is often fascinating and stimulating. However, the dogmatic content of the work is at times lost to significant spaced dedicated to the metaphysical and historical challenges that particular Christian judgments and concepts have faced. This may not be a failing of the book, it merely pushes us to ask who would benefit the most from asking these types of questions. I do not think that entry level college students will appreciate this work, nor the background necessary to benefit from this book. However, students undertaking a second degree in theology would benefit from this work as it will stretch them to respond to a number of questions and taxonomies that are (often appropriately) not treated in lower level textbooks.
Another related point also needs to be made. This work is a translation of a text originally written in German, and the German-origin influences the way that statements and questions are posed throughout the book. This suggests another reason for recommending this book to upper level theology students: namely, these advanced students will hopefully have studied some theological German. Familiarity with German and the German writing style would great aid the reader of this book.
In sum, this is a great book for theologians that appreciate the complexity of the history and task of theology as much as its material claims.