Book Review: Relational Theology
Edited By: Brint Montgomery, Thomas Jay Oord, Karen Winslow
Publisher: Point Loma Press || Wipf and Stock
A few weeks back I received a request to read and review this book, Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction, I am so glad that I accepted the invitation. Let me tell you why.
First, at its core, the subject of relational theology is a common language and means of exploring and discussing with others the relational nature and activities of God. This is important; and I do not mean to sound obtuse, but before reading this collection of short essays, I would not have understood the need for this book…much less the need for creating or sub-categorizing another field of theology. It would have seemed redundant to me and prone to creating more confusion and division. I think the Bible and much of the theology we have developed from it already support the belief that God is relational, but that begs the question; “What does relational mean from one person to the other?” This brings me to a second point.
In his introduction to the book, Thomas Oord writes that, “Relational theology is like a big umbrella idea under which various theological alternatives reside.” The collection of short essays, and there are over thirty included in this contemporary introduction, have been incredibly helpful to my own understanding of this vast and diverse field of study. My eyes have been opened to new possibilities and my curiosity stoked; I’m hungry for knowledge and eager for lively conversations, all for the purpose of knowing more about the incredible relational nature of the great Creator God.
About the book
As I have mentioned, the book is a collection of thirty-one essays written by almost as many men and women. Each essay or chapter introduces a specific topic under the heading of relational attributes of God and the outworking of those attributes in the Bible, Community, and Christian Mission. Generally speaking, the chapter essays are very concise and high-level views of their respective topics. There are pros and cons to this approach of introducing information and ideas to an audience, and I’ll share more on that in a moment, but on the whole I thought the essays were more than sufficient to present the main point(s) of the chapter subject matter and to stimulate the reader’s thinking.
The chapters are grouped into four main sections, which follow: Doctrine of Theology in Relational Perspective, Biblical Witness in Relational Perspective, The Christian Life in Relational Perspective, and Ethics and Justice in Relational Perspective. Each of these chapter-essays was fascinating to me in their own rights, but I especially enjoyed the chapters on Biblical Witness and Christian Life.
I stated there were pros and cons to the format of this introductory piece and I think the pros are numerous. In this case, a number of extraordinary thinkers have been introduced to an audience they may not have been previously exposed to; this is certainly the case for me and I am thankful for this exposure. Similarly, a great amount of information, both deeply rich and broadly diverse, has been sown. These, I believe, are the great strengths of these short essays. Where the brevity of this style falls short, at least in this case, is the fact that there is no bibliography or recommended resources list. Here I have been introduced to language, ideas, concepts, and challenges to my own thinking that are new to me. My curiosity has been piqued, but the questions raised in my own mind aren’t answered in these short chapters. Where do I go for more information? It seems it would have been of great benefit to include a reading list and an end notes section to assist the hungry reader with direction for deeper study. That one nit aside, I’m grateful for the future conversations this book has sparked in me and look forward to digging deeper into the realms of relational theology. Overall, I think the book is a success in that it introduces a huge scope of study within the confines of one hundred fifteen pages. It utilizes the talents and personality of many men and women to introduce ideas minimizing “one-sidedness” and does so without bogging the reader down with too many details. In my estimation this is a perfect springboard for many deep studies.