Divine Teaching

In my quest for good introductory material, my attention turns to McIntoshMark McIntosh’s Divine Teaching: An Introduction to Christian Theology. For this post, I am particularly interested in his first chapter, “How God Makes Theologians.” To add some further fodder to his provocative title, McIntosh states:

Most of us contemporary theologians, soberly trained in the best scholarly methods, try our hardest to analyze the divine realities by dutifully herding them into the approved pens of dialectical arguments and critical studies. Yet when we open our mouths to discourse of deity, out come skirling parables, hopelessly impossible histories, and such reckless extravagances as the idea of a God who refuses to stay exclusively divine, and a savior who’s such a miserable failure he cannot even save himself” (3).

What immediately impresses me with this text is where he begins. Instead of jumping head first into distinctions concerning the various disciplines dubbed “divinity,” he moves right into the reality of studying a subject who is wholly free, other and beyond. Continue reading

Theology Through a Glass Darkly

What is the relationship between faith and understanding? Yes I know Anselm’s dictum of “faith seeking understanding” (Augustine said the same before him), but how does this actually flesh itself out? And if faith is equated with ever-increasing understanding, then what might lack of understanding say about our faith and about the nature of the Christian life?Faith Lacking Understanding

These are questions not answered but nonetheless helpfully raised by Randal Rauser’s Faith Lacking Understanding: Theology through a glass darkly (with our move to Huntington behind me and my books on the office shelves, I have a bit more time to work down this stack of reviews for TF. Thank you Paternoster).

Rauser’s premise is simple: for the secular world and for many long-time Christians, the grand mysteries of the Christian confession are lost either in incredulity for the former or over-familiarity in the case of the later. So Rauser works through each doctrine of the Apostles Creed – Trinity, creation, incarnation, ascension, and final judgment – pointing out logical, moral, or plausibility issues related to each, calling them instances of faith lacking understanding:

[The doctrines of the Apostles Creed] violate the basic dictates of logic, or our moral sense, or minimal plausibility in light of our scientific understanding of the world … our attempts to understand each of these core doctrines of faith is blocked by a seemingly insurmountable cliff of mystery be it illogicality, immorality, or implausibility (p. 5).

Having raised issues for each doctrine he lays out various (broadly evangelical) options for addressing them. These are helpful and Rauser is clearly in touch with contemporary and classical scholarship, but he doesn’t do what I most anticipated: Continue reading

Theology and the Drama of History

Cambridge University Press was kind enough to send me a copy of Theology and Drama of HIstoryBen Quash’s book Theology and the Drama of History, a volume in their Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine series (ISBN: 0-521-84434-7). For anyone doing work in the areas concerning a theology of history, theodramatics, von Balthasar or Barth’s relationship to any of these, this book is certainly a must read. Quash has a notoriously broad reach of the field, a lucid and enjoyable writing style and a creative mind.

Quash pulls broadly from his academic quiver to produce a work that flows seamlessly through von Balthasar, Hegel and Barth on to Shakspeare and Gerard Manley Hopkins (no small feat). It is a great addition to an impressive series of books (several of which have been reviewed here, with more on the way).

In Quash’s words, concerning the nature and task of this volume,

This is a book that is concerned to identify resources to help theology think and talk about history. In particular, it sets out to examine the value and the potential of a ‘theodramatic’ conception of history. That is to say a way of thinking theologically about historical process and the historical character of human agents and environments that emphasizes their dramatic features” (1).

In order to achieve this, Quash pushes away from an abstract notion of drama to one informed by literary traditions. Continue reading

Eucharistic Presence: A Proposal

Continuing my look at Hunsinger’s volume The Eucharist and Ecumenism, I turn now to consider his proposal for an ecumenical understanding of the real presence in the consecrated elements. Doing so will entail several concessions:

  • First, there is not a real presence of Christ in the elements at the expense of the local presence of Christ bodily in heaven;
  • Second, there is not a localized presence of Christ’s body in heaven which could prohibit its real presence in the eucharist (sorry to all of the baptists out there, not to mention the Pentecostals!).

Building on this, Hunsinger suggests, “The idea of transelementation, as represented by Vermigli, Bucer, and Cranmer (and based on patristic sources), would today allow the Reformed churches to maintain their historic concern for Christ’s bodily integrity while moving closer to the high sacramental traditions on real presence” (51-52), which would allow for greater flexibility to move towards Hunsinger’s proposal of an ecumenical theology of eucharist. Continue reading

Eucharist: Real Presence

Beginning his discussion of real presence, Hunsinger turns to Aquinas.

Thomas Aquinas

Aquinas, in Hunsinger’s mind, was able to satisfy what he sees are the two major conditions for a proposal that could resolve eucharistic conflicts: “He was able to hold together, convincingly, a robust definition of ‘real presence’ with an equally robust definition of ‘local presence'” (23). Aquinas does this, Hunsinger argues, by speaking of Christ joining himself to us through the sacrament, as well as keeping distinct the idea of Christ’s bodily location. Quoting Aquinas:

The body of Christ is not in this sacrament in the way a body is located in a place. The dimensions of a body in a place corresponds with the dimensions of the place that contains it. Christ’s body is here in a special way that is proper to this sacrament” (24, quoting ST 3.75.1)

Summarizing Aquinas’ view, Hunsinger suggests, “Real presence…meant nothing less than substantial presence – the actual presence of Christ’s body, though in a spiritual mode without dimensions” (24). This, of course, is precisely what Calvin could not stand for. Continue reading


In this post, I will begin reviewing George Hunsinger’s book The Eucharist and EcumenismThe Eucharist and Ecumenism by Cambridge University Press (ISBN:978-0-521-89486-9). This is one of the latest volumes in Cambridge’s “Current Issues In Theology” series, and is a welcome addition to an already well established set of volumes. It is no secret that the Eucharst and sacramental theology in general is a major stumbling block to ecumenical discussions, and Hunsinger addresses what he sees as the central issues hindering progress in this area.

Hunsinger begins his work by drawing demarcations between three types of theology: First, what he calls “enclave theology,” which is a theology that seeks to function solely within a single tradition for the purpose of defeating other traditions. Enclave theology, therefore, is polemical theology. Second, there is ecumenical theology. Ecumenical theology presupposes that every theological tradition brings something to the table even if it is difficult to discern what that exactly is. Instead of defeating and attacking these other traditions, ecumenical theology seeks to learn from them. Thirdly is modern academic theology, which lacks allegiance to confessional norms and utilizes moderist critical norms as the overriding model of engagement with the text, theology and the church. Hunsinger claims that these are not theological containers as much as “categories of discernment by which trends and tendencies in any body of work can be picked out” (6).

In developing an ecumenical theology of Eucharist, Hunsinger provides seven guidelines that should inform any ecumenical theology:

  1. Church-dividing views should be abandoned, especially in the form of false contrasts.
  2. No tradition, including one’s own, should be asked to compromise on essentials.
  3. Where possible, misunderstandings from the past should be identified and eliminated.
  4. Real differences should not be glossed over by resorting to ambiguity; they will only come back to hant theology and church.
  5. The range of acceptable diversity should be expanded as fully as possible within the bounds of fundamental unity.
  6. All steps toward visible unity should be taken which can be taken without theological compromise.
  7. No one church should be expected to capitulate to another or be swallowed up into it. (9-10)

What do we think about these? What should inform the “essentials” of one’s theological background?

Learning Theology with the Church Fathers

As I am sure many of you know, Learning Theology with the Church FathersIVP has been producing a great series (several series actually) of books that are designed to help academics, pastors, students and lay people come into contact with the early church fathers. One of these series is three volumes of introduction: Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers, and a third volume to be published entitled: Worshipping with the Church Fathers (due out Jan. 2010), all written by Christopher Hall. For this post, I would like to look specifically at the second volume, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers (IVP, 2002 – Special thanks to IVP for a review copy!).

In an important admission, particularly for our interests here at Theology Forum, “I acknowledge readily and immediately that the fathers never split theology off from spirituality, as though theology was an academic, mental exercise best practiced in one’s study, while Christian spirituality was more appropriately focused on the heart and centered in a church sanctuary. Any split between mind and heart, theology and spirituality, study and sanctuary would have met with scant toleration from the fathers” (10). For sake of space, Hall has split up the theological loci and the spiritual content of the third volume, but he assures us this is only for the sake of publishing and not of content. Continue reading

Trinitarian Theology and the Sacraments

Gordon T. Smith, whose edited volume on eucharist was reviewed several months back, authors a chapter in IVP’s volume Trinitarian Theology for the Churchentitled: “The Sacraments and the Embodiment of Our Trinitarian Faith.” Smith bemoans the neglect by many to engage in the broader ecumenical discussion concerning the sacraments, suggesting that this neglect has fostered a “christomonism” rather that a christocentric trinitarianism, which highlights the pneumatological deficit among many traditions and churches.

In mapping the divergent views, Smith suggests two starting assumptions which must be made: first, that the sacraments are the acts of the church rather than merely individual, interior and expressive events; and second, God is sovereign and is not constrained by the sacraments. Building upon these admissions, Smith suggests a trinitarian participation through eucharist: “we give thanks to the Father-Creator (this is a Eucharist), we do this in remembrance of Christ (anamnesis) as we invoke the presence of the Spirit (epiklesis). And the unity of this structure demonstrates that these three are one.” Furthermore: Continue reading

Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Social Trinitarianism

The next issue I want to highlight in IVP’s volume trinitarian theology for the churchTrinitarian Theology for the Church is the view of social trinitarianism. We are given two specific essays towards this end, the first by John Franke, discussing the social Trinity and the mission of God, and the second by Mark Husbands whose focus is explicit in his title: “The Trinity Is Not Our Social Program.” Franke follows a stream of interpreters (such as Gunton) who pit Augustine against the likes of Richard of St. Victor, creating a dualism between what is seen as a relational model and a psychological model of the Trinity. This is certainly not my area of expertise, but as far as I understand it, this conception of history is universally deemed anachronistic, positivist and overly-simplistic. Franke fails to interact with the likes of Ayres (amongst others), for instance, and therefore fails to do justice to the scholarship available for this kind of account. Continue reading

Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Vanhoozer Part 1

I have begun reading IVP’s new release of the 2008 Wheaton Theology Conference called Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Scripture, Community, Worship edited by Treier and Lauber. trinitarian theology for the churchI want to work through several specific chapters, the first of which (actually two chapters) is worth the price of the book. Instead of having one chapter significantly longer than the rest, Vanhoozer has two chapters to start of this volume! You can’t blame him for being a little wordy when it is this good.

Vanhoozer starts by addressing the ETS doctrinal statement, looking to do some housekeeping work on coherence. My interest in these chapters has to do with the dogmatic location question which Kevin picks up and carries through his discussion. I want to address this because it seems to be the most important question for further dogmatic work. In the first chapter, he looks through various options: First, inspiration and providence, which suggests that the Bible is ‘of God’ because it is the direct result of divine providence (31). The second, inspiration and incarnation, pushes the discussion into Christology through an incarnational analogy of the text. Vanhoozer quotes Balthasar here, “The Word that is God took a body of flesh, in order to be man…He took on, at the same time, a body consisting of syllables, scripture,…verbal utterance” (35). Continue reading

Christian Wisdom: Part 2

We pick back up with Ford’s discussion of wisdom by looking at the book of Job. Ford states, “The wisdom pedagogy of the book of Job is as far as possible away from ‘packaged’ answers. It is about the most fundamental questioning and searching, including radical and controversial interrogation of wisdom and its traditions; but even that is not primary: it is above all about being questioned and searched” (93). The reader therefore, following Job, is invited to undergo this same process. What follows is again a low-flying biblical-exegetical analysis of the text of Job, peppered with commentary and interaction along the way. Along these lines, Ford states,

In being offered the possibility of blessing God for God’s sake, Job is given a relationship within which he can search and be searched as he wrestles with the worst” 104).

Ford turns a corner to focus on the implicit but nonetheless relevant issue of the creation and creature’s standing before God. Creation itself, has its own dignity and beauty, and should be celebrated for its own sake. The logic in Job, he claims, is that if creation deserves to be valued for its own sake, how much more the Creator? Continue reading

Christian Wisdom

In the next couple of posts I am going to look at David Ford’s Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love (Cambridge University Press, 2007). Christian WisdomFord offers a low-flying biblical/exegetical/theological account of wisdom as the overriding concept of Christian theology. The first thing that struck me about this book is Ford’s clear concern to work closely with the biblical text. At several points he quotes larges portions of scripture to exposit, and the book, in many ways, is an explication of these central biblical texts. In one such instance, commenting on Luke 24:13-53 (Road to Emmaus), Ford states:

So the person who at the beginning of the Gospel is filled with wisdom and amazes the teachers in the Temple, and in the middle has exulted in knowing the Father, and in death has cried out in words from a Psalm, here interprets ‘all the Scriptures’. Yet, even as he does this and their hearts burn within them, the vital recognition of who he is does not occur through this conversation: it happens only through the breaking of bread” (37).

In an important methodological comment, Ford notes, “One of theology’s main temptations is to formulate doctrines or other theological conclusions with reference to scripture and then forget that reference, Continue reading

Barth in my mailbox

The new edition of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics arrived in my mailbox yesterday. Having spent time looking over the set, T&T Clark should be congratulated for putting together a fine new edition of Barth’s classic!

cd1As presentation goes, unlike the previous paperback edition whose covers had a circus feel about them, the tones of the new set were tastefully chosen. The paper is high quality, a nice heavy-weight stock that seems comparable to the prior hardback versions. The type-setting is also pleasing to the eye which is a vast improvement – more than once I worried I might go blind reading large swaths from the earlier paperbacks! The page numbers from the last edition are in the margins (see middle right), and the editors recommend annotations be made according to them since scholarly use has drawn from the previous edition for so long. cd31The same holds true for the volume markers which are listed on the back of each new volume (e.g. CD II.2 p. 157).

The untranslated Greek, Latin and French from the last edition of CD has been rendered unobtrusively in the footnotes (see bottom right). This, together with the division of the previous 14 volumes into 31, makes the set significantly more suitable for classroom use. One could now imagine designating a sub-volume as an assigned text, whereas the price alone made this difficult before.

I have heard others say how nice it was to receive the set in its little burgundy cd21slipcases, but I would have preferred T&T Clark have skipped this little nicety. For one (note to the publisher), the burgundy dye of the slipcase bled onto the pages of the set, and the cardboard cases  were broken anyway. While I received this set as a graduation gift via the drastic prepublication markdown at Eisenbrauns (no longer available), a sweet deal can still be had at Christianbook.com. Or you can take out a second mortgage and buy them from Amazon (I won’t bother with a link).

Gregory of Nyssa and the Grasp of Faith: Part 2

Laird, in a helpful comment, nyssasuggests that the “brand” of mysticism of which Gregory is a part (or which he began) was a mysticism of faith. As neo-platonic as Gregory sounds (and certainly is to some degree), Laird helpful notes that, “Gregory’s concerns for development and transformation as a result of union, in which the soul could never become identical with the One, distinguish him definitely from the non-Christian Neoplatonist” (129).

In the same vein, Laird acknowledges and laments the apophatic characterization of Gregory in the secondary material, noting that everywhere it is assumed but rarely is it tempered. In his words,

Indeed for all Gregory’s apophaticism he values at the same time positive knowledge of God. For whilst the mind does not grasp God in comprehension, God ‘puts down roots in the depths of the mind’ and waters it with teaching; beyond the grasp of comprehension through the divine nature is, something of God has the capacity to make itself cognitively useful” (132).

Therefore, while we may not grasp the divine nature, we still have knowledge of the divine; “our understanding of the divine nature bears a resemblance to what we seek” (133). This knowledge truly “corresponds” to God (it is accurate), to use a loaded and modern concept, but does not grasp God – only faith can do that. Continue reading