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Robert Calhoun’s Scripture, Creed, Theology, reviewed by John Poirier

From Pneuma Review Winter 2013

Scripture, Creed, TheologyRobert L. Calhoun, Scripture, Creed, Theology: Lectures on the History of Christian Doctrine in the First Centuries (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011), 508 pages, ISBN 9781556354946.

Robert Calhoun was a well beloved lecturer at Yale Divinity School until his retirement in 1965. Before he retired, he planned to have his lectures in the area of historical theology prepared for publication, but those plans fell through until more recently, decades after his death. This book represents the completion of those plans, carried through by George Lindbeck. Lindbeck also contributed an informative 62-page introduction.

These lectures cover a span from Jesus to Gregory the Great. After an initial methodological clearing, Calhoun covers the New Testament in two chapters, one dealing with Jesus and the “Primitive Church”, and another dealing with Johannine theology. After that, the chapters proceed apace, for more than 400 pages total, covering most of the major developments. Some historical figures are given chapters of their own (Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Augustine)—Clement of Alexandria and Origen share a chapter. Both “orthodox” and heretical figures are covered.

There is, of course, an obvious drawback to publishing lectures from so long ago: they will inevitably be dated. When Calhoun lectured, we had a lot fewer noncanonical gospels, and those that we did have had not yet made much of an impact on our understanding of the early church. Walter Bauer’s ideas about the lateness of “orthodoxy” had not yet made an impact in the English-speaking world. The introduction owns up to the dated aspect of Calhoun’s work, and assures us (rightly) that the lectures stand the test of time much better than we might have expected. Although the reader will want to supplement these lectures with something more recent, they are thoroughly solid in what they do discuss.

Calhoun’s writing is clear, and his judgments are measured. Future studies will undoubtedly quote a great deal from this book. We owe a debt to Lindbeck for seeing Calhoun’s promise through.

Reviewed by John C. Poirier

 

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Category: In Depth, Pneuma Review, Winter 2013

About the Author: John C. Poirier, Th.M. (Duke Divinity), D.H.L. (Jewish Theological Seminary), has published numerous articles on a wide range of topics and has been named the chair of biblical studies at the newly forming Kingswell Theological Seminary in Middletown (Cincinnati), Ohio.

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