As a general rule, I enjoying reading through, or at least collecting festschriften. If that’s a new word to you (and even if it’s not), I am speaking about a collection of essays presented to a scholar on some significant occasion. This might be a retirement, a special birthday, or a special conference. At any rate, they can often be a good introduction to that particular author’s interests, through the essays provided by their friends and former students.
Theological Theology is just this sort of book, and as the subtitle suggests, it is John Webster being honored (on his 60th birthday no less). Over Panera, Michael Allen called him the premier British theologian writing today (or something to that effect). This essay collection offers readers an overview of Webster’s life and work (the first two chapters), as well as essays from some of the more influential names in theology today.
In a single volume, you’ve got:
- Stanley Hauerwas on the Holy Spirit
- Robert Jenson offering some ‘riffs” on Aquinas
- Matthew Levering’s adapted book chapter on the Gospel (from his book on the doctrine of revelation)
- Lewis Ayres’ intriguing thoughts on Catholic biblical interpretation
- Bruce McCormack reconsidering Barth’s critique of Schleiermacher
- Kevin Vanhoozer on theological interpretation of Scripture
- Rowan Williams on theology and the plurality of the gospel witness
- Francis Watson questioning the existence of historical criticism
And those are just some highlights. As far as festschriften go, this one is pretty packed. If you’re into modern theology, you’ll love everything about this book. That is, everything except the price. At the moment, a hard copy of this book will run you close to $150. Had I not gotten a review copy, I certainly couldn’t have afforded to buy it.
However, it’s worth noting you don’t have to buy a book to benefit from it. If you’re currently a seminary student, you could definitely check this out and read a few essays over the weekend or as a way to procrastinate on other work. If you’re a college student really interested in theological studies, your university library will either have a copy or you can get one through inter-library loan. You can also wait it out, knowing that eventually a paperback version might be released that runs under $50.
At the end of the day, I found many of the essays enjoyable and intriguing. But, I don’t see anything in here worth $150. If you can justify spending that kind of money on a book of essays, you might have your priorities out of whack. I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy to satisfy my curiosity. But, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be that much worse off and my life is largely unchanged as a result of reading roughly half the essays in here. My mind was fed for a few afternoons and then life moved on.
Honestly, that’s the way it is with many books. You might spazz out about the latest and greatest new release from your favorite theologian/pastor/philosopher. But many of these books are kind of boring to read and largely inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. We largely overestimate the importance of the literary output in modern theological studies. We forget that most of what is being written and published will be forgotten before our lifetimes even end.
R. David Nelson, Darren Sarisky, and Justin Stratis, Eds., Theological Theology: Essays in Honour of John Webster. New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, August 2015. 384 pp. Hardcover, $146.00.
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Thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copy!