David F. Ford

Theology: A Very Short Introduction

Review by Julian Gotobed, 2002

Ford, David F. Theology: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. 184 pp. ISBN 0-19-285386-8.

David Ford is Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge.  He has contributed the volume on theology to the new series of books issued by OUP to introduce a wide range of academic disciplines.

Ford’s aim is to introduce theology to the interested reader and equip him or her to do theology.  He defines theology as “thinking about questions raised by and about the religions.”  Academic theology is refined to address issues of meaning, truth, beauty, and practice.  The structure of the book is significant.  Ford introduces the term “overwhelmings” to describe the various significant realities that impinge upon the human condition such as death, sickness, and, more positively, the pursuit of truth and goodness. Ford also describes God in terms of ‘overwhelming:  Since religion touches every dimension of life and experience, it is only natural that theology should engage with questions that relate to the whole sweep of human existence.

Ford spends some time examining the nature of academic theology and argues that it is legitimate for different kinds of religious and theological institutions to pursue different emphases according to their purpose.  He delineates three kinds of responsibility to the academy, religious communities, and society.  The practice of theology at its best will   include all three elements, but with different weightings according to the primary purpose of the given theological institution.

The author then sets about doing theology by looking at God, worship and ethics, evil, Jesus Christ, and salvation.  The final two chapters are designed to help analyze the actual process of ‘doing theology’ that Ford has been involved in.  Of particular interest is his penultimate chapter,’ Experience, Knowledge, and Wisdom’. The purpose of the religions is to distil Wisdom to engage with the realities that impinge upon human existence, what Ford calls “overwhelmings”. Ford explores epistemological questions relating to experience and knowledge.  Trust plays a crucial role in the pursuit of knowledge.

Professor Ford appears to be engaging in a mild foray into uncharted territory to relate theology to experience.  His introduction of the term “overwhelmings” is very suggestive in this regard.  However; more in depth work is needed to bring the resources of theology to bear upon religious experience.