Winter 2000
Volume 4 Number 3


Cont'd

After fifty-six years of publication, the current editors subscribe to a remarkably similar vision. Editor Patrick D. Miller expresses it this way: “Born in the heyday of the post-WWII ecumenical movement and the burst of theological energy that erupted around Neo-orthodoxy…Theology Today set as its informal motto, ‘Our Life in God’s Light.’ That rubric still says much about what the journal is up to—the interpretation of human existence in the light of God’s word.”

It is the intersection of Bible, theology, and world that still shapes the editors’ choice of theme for each issue. An issue might focus on a classical doctrine, such as the Trinity (October 1997). Another issue might tackle a broad topic like theology and science (October 1998). According to Miller, Theology Today also may “address a particular issue that confronts Christians—responsibility for children, physician-assisted suicide—and ask how theology can inform what we say and do with the knotty issue that is before us.”

Ellen T. Charry, PTS’s Margaret W. Harmon Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and associate editor of Theology Today, thinks that theology is central to Christian faith and life. She argues that doctrine has an important (and currently underused) role to play in Christian formation. Theology is not necessarily a dry academic discipline. Rather, it is one of the tools available to Christians in the maturing and shaping of their lives. 

Theology Today Staff
Theology Today Staff (from Left)       Rolf Jacobson, Nancy Pike, Dr. Patrick Miller, Dr. Ellen Charry

For example, in the January 2000 issue, Charry has written about the role of the doctrine of the Trinity in providing a framework for the development of a “God-centered identity.” She believes that maturing involves “a struggle to claim this deep relatedness to God…. Understanding oneself, and others, to reflect the unity and cooperation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to be claimed by their work of salvation on human behalf, provides self-esteem and dignity that the world cannot give.”

Charry did not set out to become a theologian. She enrolled in graduate school at Temple University in another field entirely, and “fell into” a theology class that “transformed my life.” She began to read voraciously, savoring Calvin, Luther, and Barth. Charry says that ultimately “theology ordered, named, and shaped my life with God.” Her particular interest in theology is “to rebuild the bridge between theology and Christian life” by looking at the way in which Christian doctrine shapes Christian life.

According to Charry, what Christians believe about God should inform and shape all the arenas and choices of life—love, work, child-rearing, and the use of finances. Theology is both a source of spiritual guidance and a means of engagement with the world. Charry’s call within the discipline of theological inquiry is to help others to understand the claim theology has on Christian life. “Those of us who have been privileged to receive this education have a responsibility to make it available to others,” she says. The task of theology is “to help people know, love, and enjoy God.” Theology provides the foundation for how people of faith live together in the world. Charry says that teaching theology is her vocation—to lead other people to the richness of life with God.

Charry had primary editorial responsibility for the January 2000 issue of the magazine, the theme of which is “Who’s Minding the Children?” One purpose of this issue is to invite clergy and congregations to “recommit themselves to the care and nurture of children,” who are the future of the church. She cites just a few of the warning signs regarding the crisis in childhood at this time in history: the high levels of youth violence and suicide, the high rates of divorce, and family fracture. There is an emerging consensus across many disciplines that children are in need of guidance. Charry writes: “Protecting children from the physical and spiritual powers and principalities of our day is a daunting task. Yet, Christianity can offer a hopeful and healthy alternative to the materialism, individualism, and moral despair that fills the air. We offer here perspectives from the Scripture, history, theology, and educational minstry of the Christian tradition that may be enlisted in a turn to the children.”

Charry says that children are a “sleeping issue” in the church, that all too often Christian education is not “front and center” in the life of the church. While this issue of Theology Today isn’t going to solve the problems, it will give readers food for thought with essays and articles about Christian formation past and present.

The issue approaches its theme in a series of paired essays and articles. Thus an article on Jesus and children in the Gospels is paired with one that focuses on patristic teaching of children. Other offerings include a pair of articles on children’s books, a set of articles on youth ministry past and present, and an essay by a mother asking the church for help paired with an article on a feminist perspective on childraising.

Charry was asked to join Theology Today several months after coming to PTS in 1997. She finds “designing the issues” to be the most interesting part of her position as associate editor. She explains the mission of Theology Today as asking the questions What does it mean to “do” theology today? and What does it mean to do theology with and on behalf of real people?

Charry thinks that the journal is unique because of the “range of its audience, and its scope.” The readership is not exclusively academic. Rather, the journal is geared toward an educated general audience. Charry believes that one of its great strengths is its focus on raising issues of theological and ecclesial concern as well as those of concern in the wider culture. The journal works so well because it “receives offerings from culture” at the same time it derives focus from the editors. The editors are committed to Theology Today’s centrist position and ecumenical tradition. Charry says the journal is “not ideologically driven” from the left or the right. The editors are pleased that it has recently become more ecumenical. According to Miller, “Our aim is to find the best theologians—in the broadest sense of that word—and encourage their best writing about the things that matter most in a world whose future is very precarious if God is not there.”

Assistant editor Rolf Jacobson says that there is more to Theology Today than great essays and articles. Readers are also enriched by the poetry, the comprehensive book reviews, and the brief book notes found in every issue. Two issues each year tend to be thematic, while the other two are “more eclectic,” says Jacobson, whose responsibilities include editing all copy and working with the printer. It takes eighteen months to two years to “give birth” to an issue of Theology Today, from envisioning the theme to putting it in the mail.

Nancy Pike, the office manager, has been with the journal for eighteen years and serves as its unofficial historian. She has seen the number of subscribers double during her tenure. She says the greatest change in reader demographics is the ever growing number of women subscribers. Theology Today subscribers number 14,000 and are found all over the world.

Editor Miller concludes: “The church is the context in which we do our theology; the world is the place where our theology finally comes down to earth. Theology Today is prepared to help the church do its work in the world and to help Christians who seek understanding in faith.” 

Editor’s note: There will be a several-year gap between the publication of current issues of Theology Today in print and their inclusion on the web site. Yearly subscription rates are $24 within the US ($42 for two years), $34 for international subscriptions ($62 for two years), and $20 annually for students. For further information or to subscribe, contact Theology Today at 609-497-7714; or at Theology Today, P.O. Box 29, Princeton NJ 08542, or by email at theology.today@ptsem.edu.

Leslie Dobbs-Allsopp, an alumna of PTS’s Class of 1987, M.Div., is an at-large member of New York City Presbytery and lives with her husband and two sons in Princeton.


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