Ivana NOBLE.  Tracking God: An Ecumenical Fundamental Theology.  Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2016.  Pp xviii + 261. $32.00 pb.  ISBN 978-1606087008.  Reviewed by Whitney MCHAFFIE, Lourdes University, Sylvania, OH 43560.


Understanding religion as encompassing a multitude of positions, Ivana Noble’s Tracking God defines Ecumenical Fundamental Theology as an examination of common threads, both scientific and spiritual, within Christianity. Noble pulls together the tensions among various systems of thought from Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions, a necessity for ecumenical dialogue. Her work serves as a contribution to scholarship through its critical engagement of classic to modern theological and philosophical writings. She employs Plato and Aristotle to set the stage upon which theology has evolved. She traces traditions of thought through the ideas presented from a plethora of writers throughout the centuries from Justin Martyr to Ignatius of Loyola. Their ideas are examined in relation to five select topics, namely, systematics, revelation, authority, history and culture, and religious experience. They are then compared to thinkers from the Enlightenment to the Post-Modern era, encompassing many from Descartes to Ricoeur, whose contributions are also summarized in relation to each of Noble’s five topics. While Noble offers an even-handed evaluation of the each person’s ideas at the end of each topic, her own position remains indiscernible within her ecumenical pursuit.

The axis of what Noble reveals of her own position, amidst these various writers, rests between the poles of reason and a proactive life in faith, hope, and love. This position professes the coalescence of reason and faith, a relationship, Noble argues, that is present in every science. She explains that the study of theology requires the theologian to partake in an active relationship with the divine, ever pursuing transcendent truth. Ecumenical Theology is further defined as a pursuit of the divine within a community composed of diverse positions. Noble believes that the purpose of Ecumenical Theology is not necessarily to resolve disunity, but to balance the pluralities, a task akin to the tension between reason and faith. Without forfeiting the necessity of seeking truth or risking the extinction of a Tradition’s core beliefs through a synthesis of ideas, Noble softens dogmatism with an attitude of faith, hope, and love in her exploration of various religious and philosophical thinkers. The gentleness of her approach is demonstrated by her resolve to not give the reader definitive answers to the questions that her collected ideas provoke. Rather, she hopes that the reader will be inspired to pursue Ecumenical Theology further, taking on a role within humanity as an individual pursuing their relationship with the divine.   

Noble utilizes philosophy heavily for her systematics, building the path towards the ultimate goal, transfiguration of humanity’s relationship with the divine. Here, she defines her terms and draws in key thinkers to discuss existential, dialectic, and historical approaches to the pursuit of knowledge and faith. These three approaches are then used to examine her five topics. This foundation strengthens Noble’s work as she herself utilizes the very tools she claims are necessary for theology. The structure works in favor of her thesis claim that theology is a science as she explores the process of hermeneutics. She supports the other half of her thesis statement, that theology involves the spirit, through her examination of history and culture, in which the religious experience takes place.

            Noble’s work presents a near overabundance of information on Ecumenical Fundamental theology, causing the breadth of the topic to surpass the capacity of a relatively short text, as Noble notes on several occasions. However, the wide scope of the book enables her to lay out the discipline’s fundamentals, as is part of her main idea, explicitly stated in the subtitle. While Noble begins her work utilizing scientific and philosophical strategies, her work comes full circle only once it is drawn towards the context of a communal pursuit of the divine in faith, hope, and love, in which the individual plays a role. Although the book certainly makes use of a highly academic vocabulary and ideas, it provides enough explanatory footnotes, a bibliography, a helpful index, and a systematic structure, such that a motivated introductory student may comprehend it. Based on these factors, I would recommend this book for anyone seriously interested in delving deep into the essence of ecumenically based theological foundations.