Theologians Past, Theology Future, and Venn Diagrams

Posted November 15th, 2012 in Books, News by Emily Varner

I’ve been helping spread two big Zondervan news items this week: the announcement of New Studies in Dogmatics, a theology series in the works, and the release of Theologian Trading Cards. The latter is a playful yet extremely informative look at many of the most influential players in the history of Western theology. The former sports an ancient-future approach to dogmatic theology, taking the cues for new theological exploration from the creeds, councils, confessions, and writings of church leaders throughout the ages.

The press release and list of contributors for NSD can be found on the Zondervan Academic Koinonia website here. If you were one of the lucky ones, you also got an email from me making the announcement. (If you want to be so fortunate in the future, you can always go to my contact form and send me a message.) An interesting personal note on this project is that one of the series editors, Michael Allen of Knox Theological Seminary, is a former Wheaton Grad School classmate. If memory serves, he was an undergrad doing an accelerated master’s program in the same department I was working on my, er, decelerated master’s program. (Is that what it’s called when you are working full-time while you finish it?) We were in a few classes together and had some mutual friends. Which, just like the publication of my close grad school friend’s revised dissertation in a highly anticipated book, is additional confirmation that I am getting old way too fast.

But back to the theology/theologian news: Often press releases and media mailings are an excellent excuse to hear more from authors about their books. In the case of Theologian Trading Cards, it made made a ton of sense to interview Norman Jeune III because there is so little written about the work in project itself–no preface, no intro, no appendix. The author and I ended up with much more material than we could mail out with all the decks, and Scot McKnight enthusiastically posted the full version of our Q&A on Jesus Creed here.

My first grader’s teacher is big on Venn diagrams. I think in the olden days this was called comparing and contrasting, not that I’m knocking the Venn diagram, which is so helpful for visual learners. (And there’s nothing like having my particular first grader to make a person appreciate all kinds of learning styles.) My daughter’s class has done Venn diagrams, for example, to explore different versions of the same story or to compare their elementary school with one they visited. As I was considering posting on these two news items, a Venn diagram came to mind. I thought, What would I put in the overlapping portion of a Venn diagram about Theologian Trading Cards and New Studies in Dogmatics?

The first answer that came to me: Kevin Vanhoozer, a highly respected theologian who teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. He is a consulting editor for and contributor to New Studies in Dogmatics and you will also find a card with his photo and bio in the deck of Theologian Trading Cards. You never know when those first grade logic skills will come in handy.

But if you want me to fill out the rest of the diagram for you, you’re out of luck. You can imagine a lot of the differences simply due to the fact that we?re looking at a book series under development and a deck of cards already produced. But that middle section will be filled out more and more as the NSD volumes come out. Which early church thinkers and reformation writers will guide Marguerite Shuster, for example, as she writes her volume on Creation? What foundational theological concepts do we owe to whom as we build a constructive theology for our day?

And that, my friend, is why 1) You should get a set of Theologian Trading Cards now and start reading through them and 2) You should pray for the contributors to the New Studies in Dogmatics series as they write them, and eagerly anticipate their work over the next four years. My guess is that you might not need to whip out the old Venn diagram, but you will have some higher-order thinking skills to consider what each theologian is doing throughout his or her volume.

But if you want to send me a Venn diagram of your findings, I promise to study it with interest.