J. J. MUELLER, S.J., et al., Theological Foundations: Concepts and Methods for Understanding the Christian Faith. Winona, Minnesota: St. Mary’s Press, 2007. pp. 418. ISBN 978-0-88489-920-1.
Reviewed by Michael J. TKACIK, Saint Leo University, Saint Leo, Florida 33574.

A year ago our Department of Philosophy, Theology and Religion here at Saint Leo University concluded an extensive academic program review (APR) which involved a comprehensive assessment of our Departmental curricula which informed significant changes in our Departmental schedule of course offerings. One of the modifications that we made in light of the APR was the introduction of a foundations course which would be required of our students. The intent and purpose of the foundations course is to provide our students with a general overview of the seminal themes and topics within the discipline which, in turn, can empower them to make an informed decision when selecting subsequent courses within the Department. As we introduced the initial trial/pilot versions of the course this past year, the Department collectively decided to utilize Mueller’s text as the text to be adopted for the course. Having used the text within the course over the past year, I affirm and recommend the text to those who wish to offer a similar course experience.

Father Mueller has compiled an excellent primer text drawing upon contributions from a vast array of our colleagues and peers, each of which proffer chapters that are reader friendly, substantive and complemented with a concluding section proffering guidance to students as how to utilize library materials for conducting credible research in the relevant area of study. As a result, the text affords students an excellent introduction to the areas of:

Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament Christology Ecclesiology and Sacramental Theology Morality and Social Justice Ecumenical Relations with Judaism and Islam Catholicism in a Global Context Bernhard Asen’s consideration of the Hebrew Scripture and James Kelhoffer’s presentation of the New Testament provide succinct overviews of salvation history as articulated in the biblical narratives. Brian Robinette provides an overview of Christology informed by scripture and subsequent tradition, including a brief overview of the early Christological Councils. Daniel Finnucane offers an examination of the church that treats well the scriptural foundations of ecclesiology as well as the “Marks of the Church.” Although well presented, one may wish to complement the chapter with greater consideration of Vatican II’s ecclesiology. Jay Hammond’s chapter on the sacraments provides an excellent consideration of the theology of symbol, and a consideration of Jesus and the Church as “basic sacraments” which, in turn, inform the theology of the seven traditional sacraments. Barbara Blackburn offers a consideration of conscience and the resources needed for its appropriate formation prior to proffering examples of morality in action. Morality in action, as lived out by the Church’s mission of social justice, is the theme of J.A. Wayne Hellman’s chapter on social justice which presents Jesus as the model for Christian discipleship, the Beatitudes as a synopsis of Christian social ethics, concluding with a consideration of Catholic Social Thought that has emerged from the social encyclicals of the past century.

The text concludes with chapters on Judaism and Islam written by Ronald Modras and John Renard, respectively, which afford the reader a historical overview of and engagement with the principle teachings of the of the two great Abrahamic faiths. The impact of the Shoah upon contemporary ecumenical discourse, as well as contemporary hermeneutical issues that inform contemporary ecumenism are also presented. The text concludes with Angelyn Dries’ consideration of the changing global demographics of the church and the various theologies of liberation spawned in the wake of such changes.

The text is well suited for an introductory overview of the main topics and themes within the discipline of theology. Students will find the text accessible, and instructors will find it substantive as well as a good foundation from which to integrate other supporting materials and primary texts. The concluding section of each chapter is an excellent resource for beginning students as they are introduced to theological research. In short, our Departmental decision to adopt the text for use in our initial offering of our Foundations course was well founded and affirmed—I have continued to use the text in subsequent sections of the course, and encourage others to do so as well.


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