I will be posting next week a review of Nicholas Healy’s introduction to Thomas Aquinas’ theology, Thomas Aquinas: Theologian of the Christian life, but I wanted to whet your appetite with a quote before the end of the week.
One of the aims of Healy’s book is 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). Healy contends throughout that Thomas’ theology should not be read as philosophical, apologetic or systematic work, but instead as a work of scriptural exegesis intended – above all – to serve the preaching of the Gospel. And toward these ends, Thomas must then be read as a theologian first and foremost of the Christian life:
Thomas’s is an anti-systematic system, so to speak, in that its principles systematically undermine any system that does not push the reader back to Scripture and to the concreteness of a life dedicated to following Christ. His theology is best approached from his concern with the Christian life. It is not an attempt to develop an apologetics or a system that confronts and conquers all other systems. It is not concerned with mapping out the complete set of doctrines, though its covers all the doctrines that Thomas thought is necessary to discuss. It is least of all concnered to construct a perennial metaphysics to counter all other worldviews. Theology, as Thomas understands and practices it, attempts to clarify what has been revealed to divine wisdom through the incarnate Word and the operation of the Holy Spirit. Theological inquiry’s main function is to serve the preaching of the Gospel. And the preaching of the Gospel serves the Christian life, which is distinct from other ways of life, since it is an attempt to follow Jesus Christ obediently (p. 21).
What is the relationship between the believer’s union with Christ and his or her obedience to Christ’s teaching?
Our answer to that question is incredibly important not only for retaining the gracious character of the Gospel, but our language of salvation and Christian obedience says a great deal as well about our theology of the Christian life.
Toward sparking some discusson about the relationships we form between our theology of salvation and the Christian life, let’s consider the controversial (to some) reinterpretation of Martin Luther by the Finnish scholar Tuomo Mannermaa. As I have read, and reread, Mannermaa’s interpretation of Luther, I can’t figure out how Mannermaa’s theology of union with Christ doesn’t completely obscure the role of the Spirit in the Christian life. Consider the following from Christ Present in Faith: Luther’s View of Justification:
The logic of [Luther's] thinking is as follows: In faith, human beings are really united with Christ. Christ, in turn, is both the forgiveness of sins and the effective producer of everything that is good in them. Therefore “sanctification” – is, in fact, only another name for the same phenomenon of which Luther speaks when discussing the communication of attributes, the happy exchange, and the union between the person of Christ and that of the believer. Christ is the true subject and agent of good works in the believer, as illustrated for example, by the following passage: Continue reading
Michael Buesking, “Adventus”, Oil on Linen (2005)
Reactions? Buesking’s own comments about this piece might get us started: “My intention is to suggest the presence of the Spirit and His gifts, and present them as something impossible to contain or hold. Implying a tenuous quality to God’s presence is not meant to be a bad reflection on God’s nature or to demean his promises and gifts. Instead, it has more to do with our interaction with Him and our own human tendency to claim ownership – presumptuously – of something given to us.”
How does this speak to our theology of the spiritual gifts? Our doctrine of the Spirit? Or, our understanding of God’s “haveability”, to use Bonhoeffer’s turn of phrase (Act and Being)?
How do hymns display and express the theology of a particular Christian community or tradition? And how does this sung theology shape and form our faith (belief, affection, and action)?
For the sake of the discussion, let’s focus on evangelical hymns. In American Evangelical Christianity, Notre Dame historian, Mark Noll, attempts to probe the message of evangelical Christianity through the medium of its hymns. In doing so, he identifies three distinct layers of hymnody that define the modern evangelical movement at its best. For our purposes we will consider just two: Christ-centered picture of redemption and social vision (the other is ecumenism). Even if you don’t identify with the evangelicalism Noll expounds, consider how the sung theology of your tradition shapes your beliefs – your credo.
The Scandal of the Cross Is the Scandal of My Forgiveness
“And can it be that I should gain An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused such pain? For me? Who him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be That thou my God, shouldst die for me?” (Charles Wesley)
The first thing to notice about this hymn is its characteristically evangelical focus on the individual person’s salvation. It casts the scandal of the cross primarily in terms of how the love and forgiveness therein could be for “me.” Wesley wonders over the radicality of Christ’s death and asks: “For me?” Continue reading