Testing Traditions and Liberating Theology

Testing Traditions and Liberating Theology

Noel Preston, of the Uniting Church of Australia, reviews the latest book by Australian author Val Webb

Testing Traditions and Liberating Theology may well be the best volume to come from Val Webb’s prolific key pad - and that is quite a rap! Her primary audience is the inquiring lay person. In Val’s own words, she “wrote this book because I meet so many people that either know very little about the development of theology within their church tradition; or else have left their church because what they hear there makes little sense to them, or is even harmful to them. Like Richard Dawkins’ attacks on Christianity, they only know one version and have no idea that theology has actually changed considerably over the centuries and keeps on changing.(p.1)”

The valid assumption underpinning Val Webb’s interpretation is that the true test of religion is how religious faith and practice sustains and nurtures good living “here and now”. Much of the book is an historical survey of the development of (Christian) theological ideas. As such, it will be a great eye opener to many, and an enlightening refresher to others. She demonstrates how theology moves from the dogmatic and systematic to the contextual, that is, to liberation and feminist theologies which emancipate theology from ivory tower seminaries and continue to test the traditions of ecclesiastical institutions while providing a theological framework for engaging contemporary moral questions and public policy as well as personal empowerment.

Adopting the style of the teacher rather than the polemicist, Webb does not labour her own preferences, though they are well implied. Her own theological perspective is informed by process theology and relates to a pan-en-theistic understanding of the divine. As such, the traditions informing twentieth century theologian Paul Tillich rather than those of Karl Barth support her contextual approach. She also endorses the contemporary importance of interfaith dialogue, indigenous spiritualities and eco-theology. Indeed, one of the most significant chapters in Testing Traditions and Liberating Theologies is the final one, “Living our theology on the planet”.

Certainly, this is a most commendable and readable text “backed by serious, inquisitive scholarship”, as its dust cover asserts. My copy will be passed on to my critical thinking son-in-law and then it may become a second hand Christmas present to my local pastor! It is also amenable to group study with questions for discussion following each of its twenty chapters.

Dr Noel Preston is a retired Uniting Church of Australia minister and an ethicist formerly Associate Professor at Queensland University of Technology and Griffith University. (n.preston@griffith.edu.au)

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