Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology. 3rd edition. Baker Academic, 2013.
The second edition of Erickson’s textbook was released in 1998 and, as is common with many books, eventually became outdated as dialogues progressed and new issues popped up. Erickson has since updated and expanded the third edition in both subtle and significant ways. I will leave it up to the reader who owns the 2nd edition to decide if they should purchase the replacement. My own view is that Erickson’s update is not so substantial that it warrants a necessary replacement. However, new and current students/laypersons will greatly benefit from the updated research and discussions of current issues and should consider purchasing the new edition. I’ll give more details on this below.
Whenever you add, remove, and revise material you are bound to quickly change the pagination. While Erickson’s work is not a highly cited volume (in my own experience), following up on citations will require tracking down the correct edition. This is not a fault of Erickson, but an annoyance with any newly revised edition. The hope is that the revisions outweigh such annoyances.
Part 1 on “Studying God” used to be 7 chapters but has now been condensed into five. The previous chapter on Postmodernity and Theology has now been moved into a new chapter titled The Possibility of Theology. This new section includes the discussion of postmodernity, but also a discussion of the nature of doctrine, perspectivism, theology beyond postmodernity, and the relation of faith, doctrine, and theology (31–44). Biblical criticism and theological language no longer have their own chapters but have been merged into one chapter on Two Special Issues. There is a minor title change from Contemporizing the Christian Message to Contextualizing Theology.
Erickson also added a new and brief section in “God’s Particular Revelation” (ch. 7) on The Possibility of Knowledge of God (165–67). Two new sections were added to “The Goodness of God” (ch. 12) – The Strange Idea of Divine Simplicity (268–69) and The God of Islam and the God of Christianity (270–71). In chapter 14, on the Trinity, Erickson also weighs in on the recent evangelical question of subordination (306–09; contra the “gradational authority” view of Grudem, Ware, and others). Erickson has also updated/revised material on justification (883–91) and divine foreknowledge (251–52?), though it wasn’t always as clear where this took place.
The two largest additions/revisions may be found in Part 8, “The Work of Christ”, where Erickson extends his presentation and responses to critics of a penal substitutionary theory of the atonement (744–52). This discussion has produced a lot of literature since 1998 and so it is good to see Erickson focusing a lot of attention here. There is also a brand new chapter, Recent Issues Regarding the Holy Spirit (805–24). In this section he discusses the Holy Spirit and prophecy (via Grudem), science (via Pannenberg), other world religions (via Yong), and other “spirits” (more specifically: spiritual warfare). This new section is Erickson’s attempt to incorporate insights from global theology, an aim he had throughout the entire text and not just here.
I noticed that Erickson removed The Unity of the Church from Part 11. I haven’t been able to tell if this was incorporated elsewhere, or if the content was entirely removed. There may be other additions, removals, or revisions that I missed. Please comment if you know of any others.
Erickson’s Christian Theology has been a significant resource for both students and laypersons and this new edition will not disappoint. Those who have not yet encountered Erickson will greatly benefit from the updated edition. But I am not yet convinced that those who are already familiar with Erickson’s volume are missing out by sticking with the 2nd edition. Then again, those who use Erickson as a go-to resource will certainly benefit from the updates and time invested in this third edition.
For those interested in a summary of Erickson’s theology, check out Bradley Green’s essay in Theologians of the Baptist Tradition (ch. 17).
Thanks to Baker Academic for sending a review copy.