When my Eerdmans rep first told me about Anthony Thiselton’s forthcoming book, The Thiselton Companion to Christian Theology, I was duly impressed. Now that I’ve seen it I’m even more impressed. I can only venture some first impressions since I’ve barely had time to scan its more than 850 pages.
I was at first hesitant about this being a single-author volume. Thiselton addresses this in the Preface and notes how it is actually an advantage. The work has the advantage of “coherence, and avoids the danger of presenting an uneven work. A single author provides a single judgment, in this case gained from fifty years of teaching and research. It also ensures that the entries receive the word length that each subject or thinker genuinely needs, rather than one imposed in advance by a general editor or format.” (vi) This latter point proves true. Some of the articles, e.g., God, Christology, and the Holy Spirit, range between 20,000 and 28,000 words. The entry on atonement has 16,000. There are over 600 articles total with some 122 exceeding 1,000 words. Significant persons covered include Wolfhart Pannenberg, Karl Barth, Martin Luther, Augustine, Balthasaar, Calvin, Hans Küng, Jürgen Moltmann and Karl Rahner. The articles range from 5,000 to 8,000 words on each of these individuals. He notes that while he made every effort to be “scrupulously fair and accurate” he did often add his own value judgment or comment especially in some of the recommended reading.
He clearly expressed his opinion in the article on the Rapture. He begins with “[t]he rapture is based on a questionable exegesis of 1 Thess. 4:17 . . .” and ends with mention of the Left Behind books saying “[t]hese are accounts of the rapture based on poor exegesis, which have sold millions of copies.” (p. 717)
The essay on the “Lord’s Supper” was excellent. I found myself wanting more. I was surprised and delighted that Luther’s view was not described as “consubstantiation.” He writes, “Luther believed that he did not in principle dissent from Rome and from Aquinas about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but he violently disagreed with their description of the process, which depended on the pagan philosopher Aristotle, rather than Scripture alone.” (p. 554)
The article on hell is fairly straightforward without pushing too hard in one direction over another. He seems to be comfortable with Balthasar’s position who pointed to the difference between “knowing whether salvation will be universal and hoping that it might be. . . . We must allow two or three traditions, and two or three series of biblical texts, to stand side by side, and perhaps express our hope on this basis.” (p. 412)
Concerning the wrath of God he says, “At all events, the old-fashioned liberal notion that the OT portrays a wrathful God whereas the NT portrays a God of love is thoroughly misguided. It is a subject on which we must beware of glib generalizations. The subject is a serious one, but it is not readily packaged into neat answers.” (p. 852)
I learned that John Webster, described by Thiselton as “one of the world’s leading thinkers in systematic theology,” is “currently working on a projected five-volume systematic theology.” (p. 832)
The essay on prayer was especially good. Here’s part of his concluding paragraph. “Eleanore Stump answers the question raised by Helen Oppenheimer. It is hard to believe in God, Oppenheimer complains, if he withholds his favor simply because no one is praying for the person concerned. Stump replies that God may well grant that person healing or blessing; we do not know for sure. Appeal is further made by some to the healing ministry of Jesus. But this brings us back to biblical theology. If the kingdom of God is wholly present in Jesus, the kingdom of God is both present and future. Hence healings may often occur; but only when the kingdom has become fully present can we say that they are promised inevitably and invariably. We cannot conclude this subject neatly, for its ramifications and issues are virtually infinite. But the key to controversies lie in our coworking with God.” (p. 693)
Tough topics are not ignored. Evolution, the Problem of Evil, Science and Religion, Time, Bioethics and more. The range of personalities covered is impressive. From the early church (Irenaeus, Augustine, John of Damascus, John Chrysostom, Clement of Rome) to the middle ages (Thomas Aquinas, John of the Cross, Joachim of Fiore, John Calvin, Martin Luther) to the current age (Karl Barth, Richard Bauckham, Stanley Hauerwas, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Sarah Coakley, James D.G. Dunn) and many, many more.
I can’t say enough about the range of topics covered. It really is from “Abba” to “Zwingli”. Excellent resource!
The Thiselton Companion to Christian Theology is from Eerdmans. It is a hardcover with 884 pages and sells for $75.00.
Anthony C. Thiselton is professor emeritus of Christian theology at the University of Nottingham, England.