Miguel A. DE LA TORRE and Stacey M. FLOYD-THOMAS, eds. Beyond the Pale: Reading Theology from the Margins. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. Pp. 294. $40 sc. ISBN 978-0-664-23679-3. Reviewed by Oswald John NIRA, Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, TX 78207
Courses in theological method and liberation theology will be enriched by the inclusion of this text, wherein a broad swath of theologians—from Irenaeus to George Lindbeck—are surveyed from the lens of individual scholars from their marginalized perspectives. The purpose of this text is to analyze, through a survey approach, some major theological thinkers from the beginning of the Catholic intellectual tradition up to contemporary Christian theological reflection. Among the theologians included are: Origen and Tertullian; Aquinas and Calvin; Jonathan Edwards, Wesley and Kirkengaard. Modern and contemporary theologians include Albert Schweitzer and John Dewey; Whitehead, Tillich and Karl Barth; Rahner and Johanns Baptist Metz. Mary Daly and even Pope John XXIII receive survey treatment. A total of thirty principal authors of Catholic/Christian theological systematic thought are surveyed.
The stated task of this text is to “move beyond traditionalist modes of normative Christian theology...by reading the canon of Eurocentric theological thought from the social location of marginalized communities” (p. xxv). Designating this Eurocentric canon with terms such as “White supremacy” and “Whiteness,” the theologians approach this not so simple task through a concise and pointed method. First, the historical ground of each theologian is examined, particularly how each theology came to be shaped into a normative Christian theology and what role it plays in the tradition; next, the sources of marginalization are noted, raising theoretical and methodological issues; finally, ongoing questions about the continuing development of theology are raised. For a task of this scope, the text is not very long; all chapters are less than ten pages. Augustine of Hippo’s theology is surveyed in less than eight pages.
Some examples: The theological work of Thomas Aquinas is recognized as “one of the most comprehensive, detailed, and sophisticated projects ever produced”, yet also identified as using a method that employs a “blatant disregard for the body as long as the soul remains intact and is ripe for redemption.” The result is a “way of thinking that contributed to a lack of concern for marginalized bodies” (pg. 57). Karl Barth’s consistent focus on the evils of slavery, colonialism and social structures that maintain the oppression of the lower classes is countermanded by his insistence of real differences in gender. Man and woman are essentially different, according to Barth, and this difference demands that men maintain a superior role and women a sub-ordinate role (pg. 164). Jürgen Moltman’s theology directly focuses on the suffering on the world through a theological construction that recognizes the suffering of God on the cross, but neglects to bring this reflection into the real experience for the poor in the world, including efforts to converse with theologians from Third-World countries incorporating symbols essential to Third-World experience (pg. 250). Not only does this text provide a concise survey of many Euroamerican theologians, but also gives voice to many contemporary liberation theologians on their perspectives on traditional theology. The text includes helpful footnotes, a 13 page bibliography and a 17 page index.