Anselm K. MIN, editor.  The Task of Theology: Leading Theologians on the Most Compelling Questions for Today.  Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2014.  pp. 266.  $37.00.  ISBN 978-1-62698-105-8.  Reviewed by Ann MICHAUD, Fordham University, Bronx, NY 10458


          This text is a compilation of eight essays, penned by prominent theologians of our day, each addressing an issue in dispute which has the power to both challenge and fragment contemporary Christian theology.  The editor, Anselm K. Min, Maguire Distinguished Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University, has brilliantly handled the task of ordering the essays and their correlating responses in a cogent manner which adds to the readability of the text and makes it feel cohesive.  Min begins with those essays which center on issues within Christianity itself, expands to writings which examine the intersection of Christianity and the world at large, and concludes with those pieces which widen in scope to explore matters facing all of humanity today.

The query posed publically to the conference speakers, from which the book derives its content, was intentionally broad: “What is the most compelling theological issue today?”  But the underlying question driving Min’s study is this; “Is it possible to overcome this scandal of fragmentation in contemporary theology?”  He never posits an answer to this inquiry in his text.  He does propose that, “Christian theology cannot remain indifferent to any of [these issues] because at stake in them is the divine, theological significance of the church, history, and nature.” (xxv)  No small matter indeed.  As anticipated, none of the essayists or responders offers us a simple and straightforward solution either.  But some do propose a way forward; others suggest introducing a diversity which respects and truly heeds the positions of the partners in the conversation; others push the very boundaries of what would ordinarily be considered Christian theology.  Each provides us with an inroad or lens for comprehending why theology cannot readily resolve Min’s concern of fragmentation.  And each essay masterfully examines some facet of the theological enquiry in a manner that compels the reader to recognize the range and complexity, the breadth and scope, of the theological horizon of our era. 

There is no uniform Christianity in our day.  And the reader might ask, “Should there be?”  Isn’t Christian fragmentation simply a type of plurality?  Or is a wealth of perspectives necessary to comprehend, even perfunctorily, the magnificent scope of the theological project within a Christian framework?  Anselm K. Min’s essay addresses the reasoning for his position on the compelling question of the deconstruction and reconstruction of Christian identity.

What are the other most compelling questions that come under scrutiny in this work? 
John Behr, Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, proposes a “return to the Word delivered in the beginning,” (1) and in our contemporary context, re-evoking the need to face the reality of death.

Robert Schreiter, Vatican II Professor of Theology at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, suggests that Catholicism is in a unique position to deal with the “big picture” question of theology in the world due to its global nature and international relationships.  But it must open itself to a “both-and” perspective vis-à-vis the world in order to provide effective leadership.
Francis Schussler Fiorenza, Charles Chauncey Stillman Professor of Roman Catholic Theological Studies at Harvard Divinity School, in his search for the interconnection between faith and political commitment takes on the daunting question of “the nature of theological communication within a pluralistic world.” (118)

Princeton Theological Seminary’s Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Theology and Culture, Mark Lewis Taylor, states, “I suggest thinking of compelling theological issues in relation to history’s specters.” (131)  Taylor addresses the challenge of bringing Christian theologians to acknowledge the problem of mass incarceration as a compelling issue.

Susan Abraham, Associate Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School, poses postcolonialism and the need to continue decolonizing Western theology as the primary question of our day, proposing a theology of mutual mission as a corrective approach.
Rosemary Radford Ruether, currently visiting professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University and Claremont School of Theology, proffers ecofeminism or ecological feminism as the question still in dispute.  The issues are conjoined because both women and the earth have been and often continue to be subjected to the domination of Christian patriarchy, stemming from its Hebrew and Greek dualistic roots. 

Swarthmore College professor of religion Mark I. Wallace recognizes the ecological crisis to be the most challenging theological concern.  Pushing the boundaries of Christianity, Wallace employs the concept of Christian animism and a pneumatology of the Spirit symbolized as earth, air, water, and fire in support of his claim.

Eight disputed issues - eight theological perspectives.  This vibrant text catalogs some of the most compelling questions facing theologians today.  It will prove highly useful in any theology course which requires students to develop critical thinking skills and an appreciation of the diversity and complexities of theological conceptualization in the twenty-first century.