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Rodney Clapp

Whither Theology?

The reflowering of evangelical intellectual life has justifiably received much comment in the past two decades. That reflowering, however, has focused largely on the disciplines of philosophy and history. Whither theology, once known as the queen of the sciences and presumably a key discipline for colleges devoted to scholarship in an explicitly Christian mode?

It is a not-so-well-kept secret that a couple of generations of evangelicalism's brightest thinkers chose history or philosophy as their fields of study partly because evangelical institutions have crimped and cramped their theology departments. Exactly because theology (and biblical studies) most specifically address doctrinal issues, the work of theologians has been largely conservationist. While evangelical historians, philosophers, and others have intrepidly addressed current issues and debates within their disciplines—and in some cases ascended to the top ranks of those disciplines—evangelical theologians have had to try and make do with conceptualizations and positions essentially set forth a century ago by the Princetonian Hodges and B. B. Warfield.

Now, suggests a sympathetic outsider taking measure from beyond the evangelical camp, that is changing. Gary Dorrien is a self-professed "Anglican social-gospeler and dialectical theologian." But he has been paying serious attention to evangelicalism for some time, as is obvious from his detailed and clear-eyed reading of the tradition in The Remaking of Evangelical Theology.

Dorrien singles out three main branches in the evangelical family tree: classical evangelicalism, rooted in the Reformation and Radical Reformation; pietistic evangelicalism, based in the eighteenth-century German and English pietistic movements and the Great Awakenings in America; and fundamentalist evangelicalism, derived from the fundamentalist-modernist conflict of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But as the title of his book suggests, the focus is on contemporary evangelicalism. ...

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