After addressing the nature of the practical-prophetic task and blueprint eccleisologies in the first two chapters, this post will look at the remainder of the volume. Building upon the first two chapters, Healy proposes that the way forward in ecclesiology is by way of a “theodramatic horizon.” Borrowing heavily from Balthasar Healy writes, “Balthasar contends that theological discourse should reflect the true nature of revelation and Christian existence prior to the eschaton. The relations between God, world and church are best conceived, he believes, as something rather like a play. The play can best be described in terms of one or other of two main types of Christian horizons and theological styles, the epic and the dramatic” (53).
This bifurcation allows Healy to shuffle modern blueprint theologies into epic construals, highlighting his critique that ecclesiology has focused primarily on the eschaton rather than as the broken pilgrim church. The dramatic orientation of the church is seen to parallel the scriptures and the movement of God both pro nobis as well as God’s life ad intra: “This in a way analogous to (and dependent upon) the way the Father makes room for the Son within the Godhead, God gives us a place on the stage where we may make our free response in gratitude” (62). But this response, being free, is tainted with sin. The church, as the church in via, is caught in between the times, and therefore ecclesiology must address this specific scenario.
The theodramatic horizon Healy offers, based on following Balthasar’s understanding of divine and human agency, gives a theologically laced reality to the “non-church.” Healy explains, Continue reading
In this post I am taking a look at the broad argumentation of J. Todd Billings in his book, Calvin, Participation, and the Gift: The Activity of Believers in Union with Christ (Oxford University Press, 2007). In this volume, Billings puts Calvin in conversation with present day theologies of of the ‘Gift.’ In doing so, Billings carefully explicates Calvin’s doctrine of participation in its own right, as well as addresses a doctrinal lacuna in the secondary material on Calvin and participation (p. 18). Toward this end, Billings offers a comment and some questions concerning the task of the volume:
These issues raised by the Gift discussion provide an opportunity to frame old questions about Calvin’s theology in a new way. What exactly is Calvin’s theology of ‘participation in Christ’, and how does it relate to the activity (or lack thereof) of believers? What, if any, are the metaphysical dimensions of Calvin’s doctrine of participation? Does the notion of participation connect God’s self-giving and human self-giving in a fruitful way (p.2)?
For those who may be unfamiliar with the Gift conversation, Billings use of Calvin isn’t arbitrary, but is seeking to salvage Calvin’s understanding of gift from these theologians. “Calvin denounced reciprocal notions that he found at the core of Catholic theology,” suggests Natalie Zemon Davis, Continue reading
In chapter two, Healy addresses what he calls “blueprint ecclesiologies.” His vision for ecclesiology is that it “can aid the church’s efforts by reflecting theologically upon its concrete identity” (25). Healy moves on to focus on what he considers the ecclesiological styles of the last century: 1) an attempt to encapsulate in a single word or phrase the most essential characteristic of the church; 2) construing the church as having a bipartite structure; 3) these last two elements are combined into a systematic and theoretical form of normative ecclesiology; 4) a tendency to relfect upon the church in abstraction from its concrete identity; and 5) a tendency to present idealized accounts of the church (26).
Healy spends significant time reflecting upon Avery Dulles’ Models of the Church, focusing on number 1 above. The single words or phrases modern theologians have suggested, as mapped by Dulles are: sacrement, herald, institution, mystical communion, servant, and Dulles’ own suggestion, community of disciples (27). One need not reflect long to realize the possible dangers of such approaches – relativizing ecclesiology around a category which certainly will reflect aspects of the church, but probably will certainly fail to encapsulate ecclessiology in its entirety. From here it becomes clear what some of Healy’s presuppositions are: Continue reading
Westminster John Knox just released a great collection of 119 short passages from Barth’s writings, Insights: Karl Barth’s Reflections on the Life of Faith (translated from Eberhard Busch’s Augenblick ).
This little book would make a nice gift for someone you want to give a winsome and easily accessible taste of Barth’s thought. The excerpts are drawn from across Barth’s corpus including his sermons, ethical writings and, of course, the Church Dogmatics and are organized under broad headings like ‘Confident Courage’, ‘The Christian Life’, and ‘We Will See’. A nice feature of the collection is that each one-page selection is related to a scripture verse, making the book an ideal way to invite Barth into your devotional life. Reader beware: Doing so will surely leave you different than when you began.
One of my favorite selections is on the church entitled “The Upper Hand” and is taken from Barth’s Gespräche 1959-1962. The Scripture verse is Matthew 16:18 – ‘The gates of Hades will not prevail against it.’
In all the world, there is only one possibility fro the church: simply be the church! The church means those who are around Jesus and whom he sees all around him. The church is Jesus’ “circle”: the group around him that in a totalitarian world is nourished solely by word of God. And the more totalitarian the behavior of the world, the freer they are to believe and obey, Continue reading
As many of you know, my dissertation research focuses on Jonathan Edwards’ theology. In light of this, I am always keeping an eye out for new material on Edwards. I was particularly excited to hear about a new project by Gerald R. McDermott, one of the more prolific Edwards scholars of our day. Beyond his interests in biblical typology, Deism and world religions, McDermott has shown he has an interest in helping a lay audience grasp Edwards – a task many try and few succeed.
The new volume is entitled: Understanding Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to America’s Theologian by Oxford University Press, who was nice enough to send me a copy hot off the presses! There are several distinctive features of this volume making it stand alone among the many secondary volumes of Edwards literature (which I will highlight below). What I want to note up front is my favorite aspect – it was written for those who may have little to no knowledge of Edwards or the field of Edwards studies. What excites me about this is that it accomplishes what few (if any) have: an introduction to major themes in Edwards thought that is usable for the classroom. Continue reading
A guest post by David Buschart
Evangelicals are, almost by definition, deeply concerned with matters of theology and doctrine.
And, in recent years, there has been a flourishing of interest among North American evangelicals in matters of history. (The multiple manifestations of the latter include the rise of a cadre of outstanding evangelical historians [e.g., George Marsden, Mark Noll], increasing numbers of evangelicals undertaking doctoral studies in history, and the turn to historical resources that has accompanied evangelical interest in “spiritual formation.”) However, evangelicals have continued to virtually ignore the intersection of these two (i.e., theology and history)-theology and doctrine as historical phenomena.
There is a cluster of questions and topics which surround this intersection, most notably the nature and function of tradition and traditions, and the topic addressed in the book reviewed here, the development of doctrine. To my knowledge, the only two book-length treatments of this topic by evangelicals in recent decades are Peter Toon, The Development of Doctrine in the Church (Eerdmans, 1979) and Alister McGrath, The Genesis of Doctrine (Blackwell, 1990). Given the interest among evangelicals in both theology and history, it is surprising that this intersection has not been more thoroughly examined. And, given the nature and relevance of the questions entailed, the development of doctrine is a topic which warrants thoughtful engagement.
Perhaps Malcolm Yarnell’s book, The Formation of Christian Doctrine (B&H Academic, 2007), will serve as a prompt to this engagement. Continue reading
I just received two books from Paternoster on which I will be posting some remarks later this Spring (thanks for the review copies). In Gifted Response: The Triune God as the Causative Agency of our Responsive Worship, Dennis Ngien sets out to back-fill the contemporary Church’s emphasis on the practicalities of worship (‘how to’) by analyzing the ‘theo-logic’ of worship in the major thinkers of the church’s history. Ngien’s contention is that the underlying theme in the theologies of Basil, Anselm, Bernard of Clarivaux, Luther and Calvin is that worship is God’s gift, in which we participate. He summarizes:
‘The chief motive of worship is grace – that the God who initiates his movement toward us in order to make worship through the Son in the Spirit possible is the same one who draws us into the heavenly sanctuary through the Son and the Spirit…we are passive recipients of what God actively gives freely and unconditionally’ (xv).
In other words, we need to recover a robust sense of divine agency in our theology and practice of worship.
The other is T.F. Torrance’s posthumously published Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ edited by Robert Walker. The volume is made up of Torrance’s lectures on Christology and Soteriology delivered in his classes on Christian Dogmatics at New College, University of Edinburgh, during the years 1952-78.
The human life of Jesus on earth is the concrete emodiment of the revelation and reconciliation of God, the actual placeon earth and in history, the one man, where God and man meet. In this man, this new man, God the Creator and Father, God the Judge and Saviour, is face to face with man. In this new man, mankind is placed, whether they will or no, face to face with teh saving majesty and power of the living God’ (p. 128).
As I said, I should be able to start posting on these later this Spring. For now, most of my energy is being devoted to finishing up my doctoral thesis in preparation for submission sometime in May. To do that we moved back to the States (Muskegon, MI), and I am now daily holed up in a little third floor study of a home graciously rented to us by a missionary family serving in Africa.
Any readers living in West Michigan? I would love to grab a cup of coffee sometime – on me!
Kyle mentioned his disappointment in his last post that Leupp’s The Renewal in Trinitarian Theology did not turn out to be the primer on developments in trinitarian doctrine that he had hoped.
Let me suggest instead Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen’s book, The Trinity: Global Perspectives (WJK, 2007), as an introductory volume that – while not perfect - might just fill that category and be a good option for classroom use as well. The book is laid out in five sections encompassing a total of 27 short chapters. Parts one and two look at the Biblical roots of the doctrine of the Trinity and the historical growth of trinitarian doctrine. Part three surveys contemporary trinitarian views from both the European and North American contexts. Included here are short summaries and interactions with (in typical Kärkkäinen style) the trinitarian theologies of Barth, Pannenberg, Moltmann, Jenson, and LaCugna to name a few. Part four applies the same treatment to non-Western views such as Latin America (Leonardo Boff, Gonzalez), Asia (Jung Young Lee, Raimundo Panikkar), and Africa (C. Nyamiti, Ogbannaya). The final part distills contributions for the future of trinitarian theology.
If I were teaching a class on contemporary trinitarian theology and/or wanted a resource to glean accessible introductions and bibliographic resources for various modern views, then I would certainly consider using this together with, perhaps, Fred Sander’s essay from the Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology (This is a fantastic volume if you can get your hands on it!) and J.N.D. Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines for the developments in trinitarian doctrine related to Nicaea and Chalcedon.
Keep in mind, Kärkkäinen makes interpretive decisions throughout that will surely fail to satisfy everyone. However, for the bibliography alone and the exposure to a multitude of trinitarian views in one place, Kärkkäinen’s book is a handy resource. Any other suggestions?
As you might be able to tell from my last several posts, I have been looking at various volumes for possible use in the classroom. The latest I have perused is The Renewal of Trinitarian Theology: Themes, Patterns & Explorations by Roderick T. Leupp. I was first interested in this volume because I thought it would be helpful to provide students with an introduction to trinitarian theology that maps the various questions, issues and viewpoints. In the end, this was not exactly Leupp’s intention.
In his introduction, Leupp claims that,
Trinitarian theology is practical. It instructs in the way of Christian salvation and is a shorthand of the gospel. Trinitarian theology is also demanding, calling forth the strict exertions of thought and the purposeful resolve of action. Above all, trinitarian theology glows in its own beauty. Practicality and exertion are caught up into pure delight” (18). Continue reading
When Kyle and I began working together on a theology of the Christian life project, Nicholas Healy’s edition to Ashgate’s Great Theologians series shot to the top of my list: Thomas Aquinas: Theologian of the Christian Life (2003; many thanks to Ashgate for a review copy). I was not disappointed.
Healy’s Thomas Aquinas is a concise and highly accessible introduction to Thomas’ theology, surveying his historical context and development, reception history, and the major doctrines of the Christian faith in Thomas’ Summa Theologiae (henceforth ST). Though a good introduction, likely its most noteworthy contribution is the proposal for a particular kind of reading of ST that makes transparent the evangelical, pastoral and theocentric character of Thomas’ premodern theology. Healy wants to recover a reading of Thomas in which his theological method, his hermeneutics and metaphysics, his conception of the Christian doctrine and practice and pedagogy, as well as the material claims of his theology, are seen to be guided by the principles and norms that ‘reflect the gospel accounts of Jesus Christ’ (p. 23).
The book unfolds in six chapters beginning with an historical overview of Thomas’ life and career followed by subsequent chapters addressing Thomas’ Dominicanism (specifically its Christocentric orientation and emphasize on obedience to Christ), doctrine of God, Christology, and conception of the Christian life in light of its ground in the Trinity and in the work of Jesus Christ.
The early material related to Thomas’ identity as a Dominican is actually quite significant for grasping Healy’s interpretative proposals. To be a Dominican was to view the Christian life as a ‘radical’ life, Continue reading
As I noted in my previous entry, I wanted to spend some time highlighting the distinctives of a Pentecostal view of the Lord’s Supper. Gordon T. Smith, the editor of the volume, notes that the reason for adding this view was to do diligence to the explosion of growth in the Pentecostal movement globally (p. 8). In light of the emerging theology under girding this movement, Smith thought it necessary to bring them into conversation here.
The Pentecostal view is put forth by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Fuller’s Global theologian. V-Matti starts his essay off with a hilarious aside, noting that in The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (2002), the entry on the sacraments is actually written by a Roman Catholic theologian – along with the entry on ecclesiology! Fortunately, sans anathemas. Kärkkäinen attempts to briefly map the trouble with talking about a “Pentecostal” theology, particularly in light of the fact that the theology of the movement has not caught up with its experience and practice. So while, in one breath, it might be justified to argue that the movement has an antisacramental sentiment, in the next you have to note that, in certain places, there is a specific working eucharistic practice and devotion. Continue reading
I received a book for review a couple of weeks ago for Theology Forum that I was particularly interested in highlighting here. I have been on a sacrament kick as of late. I, as many of you no doubt, come from what feels like a traditionless-tradition that “inherited” a vague and ambivalent viewpoint of the sacraments in general, and the Lord’s Supper in particular. This is why, for the purpose of seminary students, laymen and (for the sake of) professors, I wanted to highlight IVP’s new book, The Lord’s Supper: Five Views ed. by Gordon T. Smith. This particular “five views” book offers perspectives from Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist and Pentecostal theologians. The volume follows the same format as the other “five views” books, where each author develops a concise essay of their position, followed by critical analysis from the other authors. Continue reading
Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Baker Academic, 2008), 320 pp; £15.00/ $32.00 [Review copy courtesy of Baker Academic]
It is easy to forget just how good a reader of nineteenth-century theology Bruce McCormack really is. Given the stature and boldness of his proposal regarding Jesus Christ as the subject of election (and the many implications that follow from it), the other many facets of his work have, of late, tended to be darkened by its shadow. Interestingly, McCormack’s renown has come about, chiefly, by his identification as the reader primarius of Karl Barth’s theological development, particularly as this development is situated within its surrounding historical context. In fact, without indulging too much in haliolatry, I think it would be safe to say, that if you want to get to grips with Barth, that is, if you want answers to the kinds of questions Barth was preoccupied with, one of the voices you should be listening to is that of Bruce McCormack.
While the entire collection of essays brims over with the kind of meticulous research and able marshalling of the sources one has come to expect from McCormack, it is in the first of the four sections that the reader is given a clear and firm reminder of why reading McCormack so compelling and, indeed, necessary. The motivation for some readers to get to the juicy material (and by juicy, I mean the material found under the title ‘Karl Barth’s Theological Ontology’) is naturally understandable but in so doing one bypasses over 100 pages of important stuff. Because a substantial part of McCormack’s project is devoted to offering an ‘orthodox’ profile of Barth, time has to be given to an analysis of those factors that facilitate such a position. As McCormack explains, ‘…what Barth was doing, in the end, was seeking to understand what it means to be orthodox under the conditions of modernity‘ (17). Continue reading
Ben Quash is one of my favorite young, British theologians. His study of theodramatic conceptions of history, Theology and the Drama of History, was great; his expositions of Hans Urs von Balthasar are lucid, his judgments judicious, and his prose makes you believe he really does find joy in crafting them. He also contributes the essay on ‘Revelation’ in the Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology which is equally good. So I was excited to get hold of his most recent edited volume, Heresies and How to Avoid Them: Why it Matters what Christian’s Believe.
Here is a short excerpt from his essay: “Donatism: Do Christian ministers need to be faultless for their ministrations to be effective?”
[T]he border between schism and heresy is a blurry one. And in fact, one of the instructive features of the Donatist dispute as a whole is precisely the way it highlights the artificiality of separating faith (or belief) from love (or practices). Christian practice is a sort of theology, an exposition…And in lots of ways the Donatists (at least those not marauding or supporting the marauders) embodied just that proper emphasis on right practice as inseparable from Christian truth…They wanted at their best, to be disciplined communities of character.
The problem was that their practice betrayed two things at the heart of Christian teaching: the ineradicable fallibility of creation (including the Church) and its consequent unavoidable need of grace on this side of the end of time. It is God’s job to make the Church pure, not ours, and he will do it when he is ready. However morally zealous we are, we will never by our own effort carve out a pure space which we can call the true Church by pointing to the unimpeachable lives of its members. Instead, they will sin, and they will need to be forgiven, and they will do so constantly. The holiness of the Church is precisely that it is a place where this circulation of forgiveness goes on all the time; it is not because forgiveness is never necessary in the first place. A Church which insisted that its members – or even just its clergy – had to be spotless would be an empty Church, or else a dishonest Church (p. 83, 88-89)