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

Eucharist

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