Modern Theology-It’s Pretty Cool

*Disclaimer: I received this book from InterVarsity Press (IVPress, IVP) in exchange for an honest review.

Roger Olson is at it again. Though published in 2013, this book is an itinerant work in the field of theology, and specifically modern theology. As a historical theologian, Olson is aiming to provide a historical overview of the development of modern theology. This book is an update, and a fantastic one at that, of 20th Century Theology co-authored by Olson and the late Stanley Grenz. You can read an article on his passing here.

Olson, as in his book The Story of Christian Theology, has a set outline he wishes to follow. He covers the following:

  • Modernity Challenges Traditional Theology
  • Liberal Theologies Reconstruct Christianity in light of Modernity
  • Conservative Protestant Theology Defends Orthodoxy in a Modern Way
  • Mediating Theologies Build Bridges Between Orthodoxy and Liberalism
  • Neo-Orthodox/Dialectical/Kerygmatic Theologies Revive the Reformation in the Modern Context
  • Chastened Liberal Theologies Renew and Revise the Dialogue with Modernity
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Radical Theologians Envision a Religionless Christianity
  • Theologians Look to the Future with Hope
  • Liberation Theologies Protest Injustice and Oppression
  • Catholic Theologians Engage with Modernity
  • Evangelical Theology Comes of Age and Wrestles with Modernity
  • Postmodern Theologians Rebel Against Modernity

He covers a colossal amount of material and in-depth. It is one of the best surveys of modern theology without being too technical. He even writes in his note, “This book’s primary intended audience is not scholars of modern theology but students, pastors, and interested laypeople” (15). One of the many aspects to Dr. Olson’s writing is his ability to communicate theological truths and developments with a readability not found amongst many scholars. And he is that-a scholar! He proves one does not have to write with a scholar’s vocabulary to communicate scholarly truths (though I am sure he can and does write in a scholarly manner!). I am personally thankful for his writing style.

I have to say, being unfamiliar with theology during the modern and postmodern periods allowed me to come with a fresh perspective. I must also admit the terms modernity and postmodern well up a sense of skepticism and reservation, but I am thankful for Dr. Olson, who essentially says in this book, “Do not be afraid of those terms. Learn from them.” I am influenced by my tradition (Baptist), but I found a great wealth of knowledge in topics I have grown increasingly interested in (liberalism, Karl Barth, and how conservatives responded to liberalism’s rise). I hope you grow evermore in your study of theology, and will do so by reading this book.

Whatever your theological persuasion, liberal or conservative, if you have an interest in modern theology and how the church’s theology has developed from the modern period to today, I highly recommend this book.

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