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Documents of the Christian Church.

DOCUMENTS OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. By Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder. 4th edition. New York: Oxford University, 2011. Pp. xxiv + 329. $29.95.

Henry Bettenson published the first two editions of Documents of the Christian Church in 1943 and 1963. Since he consistently chose truly significant texts and presented them in a thoroughly informative and accessible fashion, the collection became a standard and popular resource. But by the 1990s, many events and developments in Christian teaching and practice necessitated a revision: for instance, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965); the emergence (in the immediate aftermath of the theology of hope) of liberation, black, and feminist theologies; interfaith dialogues; questions about homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, AIDS, and in-vitro fertilization; and major changes for church life brought by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of official Communist rule in Eastern Europe. Since B. had died in 1979, Maunder took on the task of preparing the third edition, published in 1999. While retaining the original material, Maunder added a substantial selection from more recent writings. Now the rapid rate of change and fresh challenges in the 21st century have called for a fourth edition. Scientific and technological advances have brought with them a host of ethical dilemmas that the Christian churches and thinkers have tackled with the resources of Scripture, tradition, and well-informed reason. The new edition has also drawn on texts prompted by religious pluralism, the crisis over the Middle East (deepened by the 9/11 attacks), and the religious and political concerns to take fresh initiatives for reconciliation and mutual understanding between global cultures. Interdenominational ecumenism has yielded further material, including some passages from the landmark Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification (1999).

Selections from texts dealing with global poverty, environmental issues, and new genetic technologies had already found a place in the third edition. Material has now been added on global debt, the phenomena of migration and asylum seeking, and the accompanying injustices that the churches have confronted. The environmental focus has shifted from pollution to global warming and climate change, and they have called forth Christian responses, as have the serious ethical challenges of genetic mapping and engineering. M. has also introduced excerpts about the Internet, addictions, domestic violence, and child abuse, as well as on pastoral approaches to disabilities. Maunder includes the fundamental principles drawn from the Charter of L'Arche, a community committed to people with learning disabilities.

Appropriately represented is the work of Philip Jenkins on the growth of Christianity in the Southern Hemisphere. Recent debates with militant atheists have featured responses by Alister McGrath, John Lennox, and others; selections from this area also find a place in Maunder's edition. I was also glad to find a text by George Hunsinger, founder of the National Religious Campaign against Torture. There is a passage (482-83) from Dominus Iesus (2000) by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but nothing from Jacques Dupuis, a principal target of that document and a leading exponent of proclamation and dialogue in a multifaith world. A couple of "lightweight" writers could have been dropped to make room not only for Dupuis but also for another major Christian voice, Wolfhart Pannenberg. The "inclusive" theology developed by Karl Rahner (349) applies not to ecumenical relations between Christian churches but to those who follow other faiths or none at all.

The new extracts for the fourth edition are mostly gathered in a final, 70-page section. The fact that much of this material is of a moral and pastoral nature, with only a few excerpts on doctrinal questions, reflects the dominant issues that face churches and theologians in the 21st century. The update represented by this new edition maintains the status of Documents as a classic reference work.


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Title Annotation:SHORTER NOTICES
Author:O'Collins, Gerald
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2012
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