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Systematische Theologie: Dogmatik


Becking, Bob [Ed.]


Orthodoxy, Liberalism, and Adaptation. Essays on Ways of Worldmaking in Times of Change from Biblical, Historical and Systematic Perspectives.


Leiden u. a.: Brill 2011. VII, 304 S. = Studies in Theology and Religion, 15. Geb. EUR 105,00. ISBN 978-90-04-20869-8.


Eric E. Hall

In attempting to review this book, I opt to start out on a confessional note: the book is exceedingly difficult to review. Besides having a seemingly unified title, the essays in this book offer loose thoughts on a theme that, while immanent to the book, by no means defines it: adaption, its nature and potential for success. In this regard, if some edited volumes move as a symphony, offering a clear themat­ic response throughout its varied movements, this volume resembles a group of jazz musicians in a jam session. It moves around a basic chord structure by way of each individual author’s talents and proclivities. The book feels something like organized chaos.
The first essay, entitled »Religious Orthodoxy as a Modality of ›Adaptation‹« by Staf Hellemans argues that, far from being a non-adaptive response to the dynamisms of the surrounding world, orthodoxy constitutes a more successful form of adaption than liberalism – a truth that extends not merely theologically but also sociologically. Indeed, many other essays in the book deal with the point as well. For instance, Lieven Boeve most interestingly directly treats the idea of »recontextualization« – the transference of theo-logical truth between historico-cultural periods – in »Orthodoxy, History, and Theology«. One could interpret this essay as the inner-logic of the Hellemans’ argument.
However, take David Bos’ essay, »When Creed and Morals Rot […]«. Indeed, it treats historically the particularities orthodoxy and liberalism within the Dutch Reformed church by tracing out the relationship of the emergent centralized bureaucratic structure of the church to the relationships between ministers, laity, and clerical tradition. Fittingly, the author admits at the end not so much to be dealing with liberalism and orthodoxy per se as to be unfolding the role of class relationship and pragmatic concern within the stretching boundaries of liberalism and orthodoxy. The essay fits within the volume, but it does not fit neatly. The essay is not alone in that fact.
The point is this: the volume will not answer any singular set of questions directly or debate the various positions on these ques-tions. Each author, rather, will ask questions of his or her discipline and apply the answers reflectively to various modal ways of think­ing through orthodoxy and adaption.
One, however, need not view this fluid structure as a weakness. For one, the essays are well-done and interesting in their own right. More importantly, this author also believes that, to use the earlier analogy, jazz ensembles make beautiful music. It’s simply that, to hear the music in its unity, one must concentrate on how the various musicians toy with and develop the theme, held together by the ever-bending bass, as they riff through their instruments. So, too, with this volume. The theme stands more as a family re-semblance than a strict and linear pattern, and this structure can be very refreshing. One gets to read, reflect, and explore the options that the authors in the volume have given us. But it does consti-tute an active read in the sense that one must willingly interpret the relations and non-relations between essays.