(Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 2002) x + 150 pp.1SBN 0802839304
Any work by Brueggemann has the promise of being grounded in the
biblical text, stimulating in its dynamic analysis of the narrative movement
with theological thrust and sociological dimension, and lyrical in its
language. The reader comes expecting fresh associations with other biblical
passages and pointed relevance in its application to modern society
Originally given in February 2001 as the Stone Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, the work bears the hallmarks of the occasion with an expansive, almost homiletical style, and so is easily read. There is no difficulty following the argument! He was told by Bernhard Anderson of the need for “a very large theme” (p. 85) and so took up “the question of what the church is doing and is to do when it stands before a biblical text” (p. 1). To do so he believed “that abstract and speculative answers … are of no help at all; our answer must be in quite specific textual practice” (p. 85). The book models that approach.
The first three lectures/chapters discuss the story of the capture and
return of the ark in 1
Brueggemann states in his Preface that he is seeking to “exposit some themes which my Theology of the Old Testament in 1997 had anticipated” (p.viii). His approach is explained in the final chapters where he outlines and expands his “non-foundationalist reading”. By this he means not being curbed by the limitations of accommodating universal requirements, whether of “history”, “reason”, or “canon” (p. 119). This is made clearer as he responds to criticisms of his Theology by Bernhard Anderson (regarding “history”), James Barr (regarding “reason”) and Brevard Childs (objecting to Brueggemann positing both “core-testimony” and “counter-testimony”) [discussed at more length in Brueggemann’s forthcoming article in ZAW]. To Brueggemann a non-foundationalist approach means listening to the text in its rawness (my term), not domesticating or smoothing rough features to fit in with modern canons (although he himself follows patterns of post-modernism).
The striking results of such an approach are clearly illustrated in what is likely to be the most controversial aspect of his interpretation of 1 Samuel 4-6, namely the (actual) powerlessness of YHWH: in the capture of the ark, “YHWH is shamed and humiliated… God is exposed and vulnerable, not generically sovereign” (p. 9); “Yhwh was also taken, clearly not Yhwh’s initial intent” (p. 112). Has Brueggemann been so enamoured of being open to the “counter-testimony”, of not being foundationalist, that he has read far more into the text than is in fact there, making the words of the Israelite army and Phineas’s daughter the testimony of the text? Has he confused the characters of the text and the narrator? Or is he (by overstatement) seeking to shock the listener/reader into facing up to the depth of the capture before moving to the following chapters? Readers who baulk at Brueggemann’s bald statement may none the less follow some of his application. As he relates the capture to verses in Lamentations and psalms of complaint he affirms the honesty of biblical writers and moves on to the Cross with questions to a “can-do” church which sees Friday as awkward. He moves on to present situations where people face a void – “the glory has departed” must be voiced.
I do not remember reading any commentary or hearing any preacher who
illuminates the incident in the
The journey of 1 Samuel 6 is made (in Samuel and Kings) a journey on to
David and the temple, with the development of “political, economic and
institutional power” but it also leads on to
In the concluding lectures Brueggemann uses insights from Amos Wilder and Hans Urs von Balthasar treating the narrative as “guerrilla theatre”, an “alternative enactment of the world”. The text “represents a dramatic world that has the invisible but active YHWH as a key player, cast sequentially in roles of humiliation and exaltation … (that) breaks denial, despair, and complacency” (p. 100). This in turn becomes subversive and revolutionary.
As an Australian, living in “the land of the long weekend” (Russell
Conway’s phrase), I found Brueggemann’s elucidation
of the “secular weekend” striking – “an occasion of escapist stillness, devoid
of the jarring rough and tumble of narrative interaction”. He pictures the
priests of Dagon saying, “Now we have won… have a nice weekend” (p. 121)! But
the weekend is different for people of the narrative, and so he gives three intertextual re-readings of the
Brueggemann’s theological approach in a post-modern context continues to be debated,
including his portrayal of sovereignty. No one however can question his ability
to bring the biblical text to life to a wide cross-section of readers in a way
that enables the narrative to impinge on issues and values of today. The
cultural context of the Ark Narrative is remote for many readers, yet he has
succeeded in showing its powerful present relevance. He models a style of
reading which is open to the strangeness of the text and the power of
narrative, with an ability to relate ancient images to present realities. In
particular, the associating of the
James L. Crenshaw
In recent years there appears to be a renewed interest in the Psalms and their place in life and faith. This has led to a number of significant publications examining both the background of the Psalms together with their original purpose with the intention of exploring their contemporary relevance. James Crenshaw in his contribution offers an extremely readable and comprehensive introduction to the Psalms which is of benefit for those who have never explored something of the “narrative” behind the Psalter and the diversity of content found within it. The material he presents, and the manner in which it is presented, bares direct relevance to how individuals and communities of faith interact with the Psalms.
In the preface Crenshaw states his purpose clearly which includes examining the variety of collections within the Psalter, Hebrew poetry outside the Psalter and describing a variety of approaches to the study of the Psalms in more recent history. In addition to this he also spends a considerable amount of time assisting the reader to interact with four particular Psalms as a way of understanding their content and form. By proceeding in this manner Crenshaw presents both information about the Psalms and also some experience of the Psalms.
As a foundation Crenshaw briefly describes the usage of the Psalms
throughout the Judaeo-Christian tradition with
particular reference to the notion of the Psalter being the “hymnbook of the
Crenshaw explains in some detail the Ancient Near Eastern milieu which gave rise to a wide range of psalmodic type literature and connects this idea of various sources with the notion that the Psalter as we have it is a collection of “collections.” While noting the tenuous nature of the titles in the Psalter he clearly highlights how this is indicative of various pre-existent “collections.” In addition to this he describes distinctive features of psalms attributed to David, Asaph and Korah et al while acknowledging the broader themes which connect both the individual Psalms and the collections.
Following this chapter there is an examination of material found outside the Psalter that is similar to psalms. This is a helpful exploration in that it highlights the place of poetic expression within the “narrative” of life. However, Crenshaw falls short of teasing out the purpose and significance of this poetic material being ensconced in the narrative text. There is much to be said concerning the use of poetic expression as both an enhancement of and re-shaping of narrative.
In a logical progression part two of the book moves from background information to addressing the interesting question of how we should then approach the Psalms. While rightly focusing on the Psalms as prayer, as alluded to in his introduction, Crenshaw only gives a few representative examples of the functionality of this concept. As this book is by nature an introduction it is not expected to be exhaustive in this area. However, a more extensive discussion of lament psalms would have enhanced the book at this point. He does make the point that lament is prevalent in the Psalter but provides a rather narrow definition of the form as “a pouring out of ones need in prayer” (p. 70). While Crenshaw later describes Brueggemann’s perspective on the Psalms in terms of his orientation — disorientation — reorientation paradigm he fails to take the opportunity to explore, at least in part, what the prevalence of lament may suggest. While extensive discussion is not warranted in an “introduction” it would be helpful for many readers to be alerted to the comprehensive range of emotional expression illustrated in the Psalms. This would be particularly useful for the reader who has been influenced by the popular myth of “psalm” equating exclusively with “praise”.
Following this Crenshaw provides a helpful summary of Gunkel and other significant Psalms’ scholars which offers the reader a thumbnail sketch of the major issues of form and content.
Techniques of Hebrew poetry are briefly described and “theological design” is mentioned with reference to a few of the current theories being discussed. The alert reader will be prompted to ask a number of significant questions of the Psalter as a result of this section. The issue of theological design raises a number of possible directions for both study and use of the Psalms.
The focus on four specific psalms is helpful for a number of reasons. First, each psalm is examined in a unique format taking the structure and content of the psalm as the starting point for analysis rather than imposing an external analytical paradigm. The selection of psalms though limited does afford the reader the opportunity to interact with a variety of content and form and to observe some of the previously highlighted issues at work in the text.
As an introduction to the Psalms Crenshaw’s book is a valuable resource. It will alert the reader to many pertinent issues in the study of the Psalms in a very readable form. It also provides a useful general overview for the more informed reader with some information that could “fill gaps” and some insights which raise important questions in terms of how the Psalms are to be understood and used in the contemporary context.
David J Cohen
Ashgate Critical thinking in Theology and Biblical Studies.
Thinking otherwise is the way in which J’annine Jobling characterises feminist thought generally but it could also be used to describe her “restless readings” of two feminist biblical scholars within a theological context. While critically engaging the work of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Phyllis Trible to establish a hermeneutics of remembrance and destabilization as significant for feminist theology, she demonstrates the restlessness of her readings as she dialogues with feminist critical theory, philosophy, theology, historiography, and other disciplines toward an eschatological imagination. Within such a hermeneutic, meaning for Jobling cannot be fixed and present but deferred and different. Her grounding of such meaning-making within a feminist discursive community which she images as métissage enables her to argue for the possibility of discerning “traces of God” and of establishing ethical potential within what she calls a logic of equity.
Having established the goals of her work in an opening chapter, Jobling undertakes her own reading of the contribution that Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s two decades of scholarship has made to feminist theology generally and to feminist hermeneutics in particular. Clearly, such a reading has to be selective and hence Jobling’s two-fold focus: Schüssler Fiorenza’s historical paradigm and her location of biblical interpretation within the ekklesia.
Those familiar with feminist biblical interpretation will not be surprised at Jobling’s highlighting of Schüssler Fiorenza’s heuristic model for feminist historiography which shifts women’s historical agency as well as their oppression to the centre of investigation. They will, however, find Jobling’s dialogue with Schüssler Fiorenza’s approach under the headings of “objectivity”, “the Real”, and “postmodernism and politics” engaging. She concludes that Schüssler Fiorenza does provide a “coherent account of how both constructivism and realism can operate in historiographical endeavour” (p. 19), noting that her claim is finally that historiography is rhetorical. Jobling, however, would want to claim that traditional historical critical scholarship is more flexible than Schüsler Fiorenza implies in her critique and that the basis of distinction between feminist historical reconstruction and that of traditional biblical scholarship is not its objectivity but rather its advocacy claims. The distinction is hermeneutical. She concludes this aspect of her study with the claim that a feminist hermeneutic constitutes a call to remembrance.
A critical analysis of Schüssler Fiorenza’s ekklesia gynaikon or “women-church” is significant to Jobling’s restless readings. She highlights Schüssler Fiorenza’s claim that this ekklesia is a rhetorical space that must be located amidst public/political institutions and discourses. From within such a space, Schüssler Fiorenza deconstructs the sex/gender system as naturalized category within patriarchy or kyriarchy. This, however, opens up a space for Jobling’s critique and later development of an alternative understanding of ekklesia. She argues that Schüssler Fiorenza’s eschewing of the sex-gender system does not fit coherently with her placing the ekklesia gynaikon at the centre of her hermeneutical framework. She pays insufficient attention, Jobling claims, to sexual difference in its materiality. It functions for her only as a socio-political category. Jobling will, therefore, take up the question later as to how sexual difference can be framed within a logic of radical equality. The remainder of this chapter gives attention to the visionary aspects of the ekklesia as the place of interpretation, of theologising such that it “envisions the world differently and engages with the world in the engagement with God” as God-Sophia (pp. 57-58).
As Jobling turns to a reading of Phyllis Trible, both her God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality and Texts of Terror, the focus shifts from historiography to textuality. At the heart of Jobling’s critical engagement with Trible is her claim that the
text itself is the arbiter of different interpretations. What Trible does not give significant attention to, according to Jobling, is the role of the reader/interpreter. In
order to demonstrate this, Jobling examines not only Trible’s interpretation of Gen 2:18-24 but also that of a
number of other scholars including Dragga, Rashkow, Bal and
Bringing Trible’s topical
clue of God male and female into dialogue with
In a transition chapter into the development of her own hermeneutic
which she names as eschatological, Jobling highlights
not only remembrance and destabilization but also hope. Jobling reads Walter Benjamin’s historical materialism through her feminist lens to
establish memory as a “brushing history against the grain” (p. 106) in order to
remember oppression as well as resistance. Bringing this into dialogue with
It is in the final two chapters that Jobling develops her own hermeneutic as a theology. She engages questions of truth,
reality, textuality and ethics from within her
eschatological hermeneutic, recognising that to
engage questions of truth is to engage questions of God. Her opening dialogue
partners are Ian Markham and Alasdair MacIntyre. MacIntyre, in particular enables her to establish the contextuality of knowledge without falling into relativism.
Dialogue with Derrida and his metaphysics of absence further substantiates her claim that truth is not fixed static and grounded but it is always textualized and hence incomplete, unstable. It is the eschatological imagination which holds the dialectic of presence/absence and now/not yet. This is not an annihilation of truth but it is oriented toward horizons of hope.
The context in which such a hermeneutic, such interpretation, such theologizing can take place is for Jobling the ekklesia which she labels a métissage. This is for her a “justice-seeking rhetorical space” (p. 143), a site of hybridity. It is here that a gender identity can be established within what Jobling calls a “logic of equity”. This allows for differences but also recognizes commonalities, a “strategic essentialism”. It is an ethical construct which recognises that norms are historical and contingent, a site of contestation but in a way which resists universalism and relativism. In such an ekklesia, God is not “present” or “haveable” but “appearing through disappearing”; and “‘the good’ is not there for us to discover: we must create it for ourselves” (p. 162).
It is to this place that Jobling’s restless readings take her reader. To undertake this journey with her will be a rewarding one for those who seek to grapple with the challenges of contemporary feminist biblical and theological hermeneutics and the questions of truth, reality and God. Along the way, the reader will encounter finely nuanced critical analysis, dialogue with contemporary thinkers and finally creative construction of a hermeneutic, a theology. It is a journey I can certainly recommend.
Edited by Donald Armstrong
(Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 1999) xvi, 143 pp. ISBN 0802838650
This volume of six
essays from Anglican-Episcopalian scholars and leaders, including the present
Archbishop of Canterbury, is the published version of lectures given in 1998 at
a conference of the Anglican Institute. The Anglican character of these
lectures is not disguised, though the emphasis on “an effective faith grounded
in a sturdy tradition” (p. ix) is by no means the concern of Anglicans alone.
Nevertheless, a concern with “the
This is not to prejudge the quality of these essays; they vary considerably. The first essay, by Christopher Hancock, is entitled ‘The Christological Problem’ and deals with various sets of problems with which Christology has to wrestle. The student and scholar must be clear about presuppositions: literary, intellectual and hermeneutic. The sceptic must come to terms with “the lingering aura of Christ’s radiant character” (p. 9), a phrase which might rather increase one’s scepticism! Since the whole collection of essays is defensive, both the New Testament basis and the patristic shaping of christological doctrine is very positively described. In the end, the problem is stated in terms of holding together questions of a historical kind with personal and sacramental experience of Christ (p. 21). This is not the kind of paper one would expect to hear at a scholarly conference; it does not pretend to be that kind of paper. Its aim is to strengthen faith in Christ and confidence in the church’s understanding of, and access to, him.
The posture of the second contribution, by Richard Reid, ‘The Necessity
of a Biblical Christology’, is similar to that of the first. Christology has to
be based on the Scriptures “lest we believe too little” (p. 27). The merit of
this essay — which makes it suitable for those coming fresh to the study of
theology — is its discussion of the context and content of Christology. The
best section is on the continuity of biblical Christology, where
The best essay is by N.T. Wright, entitled ‘The Biblical Formation of a Doctrine of Christ’. Here there is engagement with the work of serious scholars. The author also refers (helpfully) to his own fuller treatment of matters discussed in his own books. In particular, he defends the view that the available Jewish monotheistic categories available for speaking of Jesus — long before the discussion of ‘nature’, ‘substance’, ‘person’, etc. (p. 59) — were both adequate and the basis of a later ‘incarnational’ Christology. Thus “thinking and speaking of God and Jesus in the same breath is not … a category mistake” (p. 65). Wright makes an important distinction between the ‘self-involving’ nature of christological (and trinitarian) language and ‘self-referring’ language. (p. 66) There is more to stimulate and challenge in this essay than in the others.
Alister McGrath’s contribution, ‘Christology: On Learning from History’, is thin by comparison. The biblical work — on addresses by Peter and Paul in Acts — is shallow and tendentious; the aim is to get principles for apologetics for today. Other historical examples range from the Apologists to the Enlightenment. The chance of some shots at John S. Spong is not passed up — fair enough — in the course of defending an orthodox (and Anglican) Christology. At the end, under the guise of challenging “the Westernization of Jesus”, there is an attack on “many Western liberal bishops” (p. 88f.) who did not win the day on certain issues at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. The essay’s argument is that “the past illuminates the present” (p. 90), a scarcely contestable proposition, but the real agenda is not very deeply hidden.
Alan Crippen’s essay, ‘The Biblical Christ in a Pagan Culture’, operates with (H. R.) Niebuhrian categories, and dismisses ‘Christ of culture’ Christologies (such as Spong’s) as far from the biblical Christ. Crippen argues for a ‘Christ consecrates culture’ position, a view he describes as always having been held by mainstream Anglicanism (p. 98; cf. p. 103). There is a defence of ‘the family’ and a plea for the “re-Christianization of culture” (p. 122). Surprisingly, there are some good lines on the conflict between Christianity and both postmodernism and modernity (p. 113, p. 116). Perhaps the author lives in a different world from this reviewer; his hope of a future book entitled How the Anglicans Saved Civilization stretches credulity, to say the least, and reveals the narrow focus of most of the essays in this volume.
If a concluding essay by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Carey) is thought to add weight to this volume, the weight is not particularly theological. The article has more the character of ‘rallying the troops’ than contributing to scholarship, and perhaps this is the real intention of most of the articles in the collection. They are ecclesial, rather narrowly so, and they recall readers (and the initial hearers) to the faith of Christ crucified and raised. It is true, of course, that to speak theologically of the church is to speak of Christ, and vice versa, but at times these essays make rather too close an identification. Jesus Christ is not only embodied in the church (p. 132) but he also stands over it as its Lord and its judge, and of this not very much is heard.
With the one exception mentioned above, these essays are disappointing. I cannot imagine that they will be of very much interest to people already engaged in the study of theology. They may appeal to those who want to know the contours of christological orthodoxy and to some who are interested in polemics.
David M. Coffey
(Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2001) xviii, 189 pp. ISBN 081462519
David Coffey’s latest book is a volume in the Lex Orandi series from The Liturgical Press. In accordance with the policy of this series, the subject matter of the book and its first point of reference is determined by the Rite of Penance, the official English translation of the Ordo Paenitentiae of the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship. As a consequence, the book will be of most interest to Catholic readers and is designed more for those ordained to liturgical leadership than for those seeking reconciliation or forgiveness for themselves. The subject matter of the book is then rather more restricted and somewhat more ecclesiastical in tone than the title might indicate.
Nevertheless, the author intends this volume to be a theology, not just
a commentary on the official rite. It is perhaps fair to describe the
substantial content of the book as a theological reflection on the official
Roman texts of the Rite of Penance. Beyond the concern with texts, the content
of the book is also moulded by two contextual
factors: the crisis that the sacrament of Penance is undergoing in
The five chapters of the book cover a theology of sin, the Church’s ministry of reconciliation and the historical development of the sacrament. It also covers the four parts of the sacrament (contrition, confession, absolution, and penance), the four forms (three sacramental and one non-sacramental) of the rite in the official text, and some final prognostications about the future of the sacrament.
The material of the book is presented with clarity, and the theological positions adopted by the writer are carefully, sometimes quite rigorously, argued. There are occasional detours into the minutiae of old academic debates. These could be best described perhaps as brief acts of scholarly self-indulgence by the author. Each chapter has a conclusion which summarises the main arguments of the chapter, and there are extensive references in the notes that follow each chapter.
The central chapters present a historical overview of the major changes in the form of the rites of reconciliation and a systematic analysis of the main traditional ingredients of the rite. Of particular interest to modern readers will be the parallel the author makes between the ‘Carolingian compromise’ in the medieval period (which resulted in the older but neglected canonical public penance being replaced by the newer and popular private confession to a priest) and the contemporary pressures that are changing liturgical practice as people again vote with their feet. The reader who is unable to access the larger historical books on the history of the rites of reconciliation will find here a focused and neatly argued discussion of the main ingredients of interest to the contemporary practitioner.
There are two chapters in particular that engage with the contemporary issues. The first of these is the chapter on sin. The author considers that a widespread confusion about the nature of sin is at the heart of the present crisis. This chapter draws on traditional theological distinctions to bring clarity to the kinds and degrees of sin. It probably needs to be said here by way of critique that even a very average sinner nowadays is likely to sense that the human dimensions of sin are deeper and more complex than these traditional theological distinctions are able to deal with. The author allies himself with relatively recent trends towards a person-centred rather than an act-centred morality. A key to this approach is the notion of a fundamental option of the mature Christian to love of God founded in love of neighbour. While this fundamental option can be changed, it cannot be changed easily and most sins are not a withdrawal of that love. A consequence of this approach is that grave sin needs to be regarded as much less frequent than has been supposed. This will have further consequences for what we think the rites of reconciliation are for and what form they should take. The author returns to this point in his final chapters.
It is not quite fair to criticise a book for the things it does not deal with. Still, given the importance the writer attaches to the understanding of sin, a reviewer cannot ignore completely another major aspect of the current crisis in the understanding of sin. The writer’s views on the fundamental option, and the shift from an emphasis on acts to the person, finds wide acceptance nowadays in mainstream Christianity. But there are also crucial modern questions about sinful acts, attitudes and involvements. These are the questions about our participation in structural evils such as social injustices and environmental destruction and the terrible violence of modern technological warfare. This is not just a matter of recognising that there is such a thing as ‘social’ sin. It involves a rethinking of just what acts, attitudes, and involvements need now to be recognised as sinful, even though we did not traditionally do so. It also involves rethinking on the relative gravity that needs to be attached to them by the Christian community, and how we can be repentant and reconciled in the context of these large-scale evils.
The other chapters that engage most with contemporary debate within the Catholic Church are the last two chapters dealing with the varied liturgical forms of the rites. The central issue here is the balance between the individual and communal dimensions of the rites of reconciliation. The writer notes the intended complementarity of the three sacramental rites — the rites are not just equal alternatives but each is more or less appropriate for some people at some times and in some circumstances. Beyond this, his stances on the Rite II (communal rite but including individual confession) and Rite III (the completely communal rite without individual confession) will be controversial. He advocates Rite III as the principal rite of the future against the current resolve of the Roman Congregation to restrict this rite to emergencies. On the other hand he is dismissive of Rite II as impractical except in special circumstances such as retreats. Here he seems to draw on his own experience and this appears to be mostly infelicitous. This is not the place to enter into detailed discussions of liturgical realities but it should be noted by way of contrast that there are many parishes who find Rite II the most satisfactory communal rite provided it is treated as an integral rite on its own and not just a patching of the individual Rite I (one-to-one interaction of priest and penitent) onto a prior communal liturgy of the Word.
Inevitably there are a number of theological questions that the book raises for the reader even though they are not explicitly addressed at any length in the book itself. Let me note two of these. One is the question of what exactly we mean by “forgiven” (or “reconciled”) and, consequently, what image of God is here implied. Is God to be imaged principally as a compassionate judge as seems to be the case in this book and its source text in The Rite of Penance? Or is there room for more transforming and less declaratory ideas of what constitutes “forgiven”, and consequently for images of God as liberator or Creator or as indwelling Spirit or inner healer or deepening love or the driving force for structural change, and so on?
A second underlying question is the degree of authority that we can reasonably entrust to church officials. Crucial to a ministry of reconciliation and a theology based on official texts is the question of church authority. Part of the crisis in the practice of liturgical reconciliation is the rather widespread doubt about the ability of priests to exercise proper discernment of sin or to understand a sinner’s spiritual state or to determine just how reconciliation should take place. Like other aspects of church leadership in the societies to which this book is addressed, authority in the matter of reconciliation or forgiveness is still something that needs to be earned rather than simply claimed.
Edited by Lewis S. Mudge and Thomas Wieser
To the cynic a collection of essays such as this, suggesting ways
churches can help the world to become more democratic, more sustainable and
more just, is like being in a big ship going one way and paddling the other —
what can we achieve when the forces against us are so great? To an idealist, on
the other hand, this book’s talk of participatory democracy as a provisional
sign of the
For most readers, the experience of reading the book is likely to
oscillate between the two. Is it just a report of a World Council of Churches’
(WCC) consultation in
As in many collections, the quality varies. At its best, in the chapters by Lukas Vischer, Lewis S. Mudge, and Riccardo Petrella, for example, the book takes the debate forward with a sense of clarity and urgency. But some of the sixteen contributions read like forgettable conference presentations.
Vischer, in “People’s participation in building a just and sustainable society”, argues that moral pressure from those committed to democratic processes and a just and sustainable society can help to make the international order observe the covenants and declarations signed at various conferences such as Rio de Janeiro conference on the environment in 1992. But he recognises what a huge task it is to combat the “spirituality of expansion” in the name of sustainability.
Mudge, in “Moral hospitality for public reasoners”, is aware of the churches’ limited role in pluralistic societies and suggests a modest role in creating a “moral space” for conversation leading towards civil society, actively seeking overlapping views and some sort of basic consensus or covenant among religious communities, non-government organisations (NGOs) and other civil groups.
Petrella’s contribution is one of the clearest and most passionate arguments I have read on why global capitalism is bad for democracy, poorer nations, jobs and the environment. The spaces occupied by governments, civil society and cultural traditions are being swept away by the dominance of the market. His is the only chapter with the rider that the views expressed are his alone. It makes one wonder who the WCC wants to keep on side.
As an illustration of the ways in which the consultation called the
church to act, K. C. Abraham makes four concrete suggestions at the end of his
worried analysis of democracy in
There are various chapters dealing with how to build democracy at a national level or encourage the observance of international agreements. Examples of NGOs and churches influencing the political tone of society, such as in recent South African history, are encouraging. But the forces against democracy, including resistance within the churches to a democratic way of operating, are acknowledged to be very strong.
The consultation was entitled “Democracy for a sustainable society in the context of economic globalization”, a broad topic by any measure. But the official report, which appears at the end of this book, demonstrates why the various elements are intertwined. Drafted by Mudge and labelled “Democracy, sustainability and the churches”, it is a well written document, arguing clearly on theological and social grounds for the churches to throw their considerable influence worldwide behind movements for a civil society, defined by participatory democratic processes, sustainability (in several dimensions) and justice. “Words such as justice, peace and love will take on their full significance only at the end of a prolonged yet Spirit-empowered struggle to achieve them,” it says (p. 194).
The WCC is to be commended for calling people together to discuss issues so large that they overwhelm many of us and so pervasive that they become the air we breathe. It is also to be commended for making the results of this consultation widely available. This volume is carefully edited, is not too large and contains some real gems.
PERSPECTIVES FOR THE 21st CENTURY
Edited by Robert Wicks
This large (697 pages) book is divided into 7 sections dealing with aspects of Spirituality, Christian Counseling and Ministry. The theological tenet is distinctly American Catholicism. The editor has assembled 42 articles from some of the more prominent theologians, counselors and spiritual directors of the American scene.
The book lends itself as an important tool for those who seek for a deeper understanding of aspects of spirituality, ministerial matters, in conjunction with psychological self-analysis. The gamut of articles starts with an exposition on the need for ministers to model their ministry on that of Moses. The basic argument being that an effective ministry is one of “General Practice”. From this multifaceted approach to ministry, the articles present a wide theological and spiritual spectrum.
Familiarity with the psalms, to understand the gospel of John as an invitation to live a spatial Christian life, and the recognition that spirituality and suffering go together, invite the reader to reflect on the meaning of life, death and self perception from a relational basis. This relationality is created by God’s love, for “The being of God is relational, and this relational character of God is communicated to every human being in the act of creation.” Some of the articles focus on the difficulty in maintaining faith in the middle of suffering, and offer the example of the words of Jesus from the cross, and the spiritual disciplines of catholic saints as models for theological reflection. A personal account of recovery from sexual abuse, provides evidence of the valuable role of spiritual direction in this area of human suffering.
Syncretism of psychology and spirituality as a means to achieve a greater awareness of the value of self in relation to the love of God feature in the discussions. In the area of spiritual direction, a number of models which emphasise the need for a contextual theology, honesty, equality and trust, are offered as examples to meet the challenges of postmodern spiritual direction.
Prayer and involvement with people are seen as essential elements of a successful ministry. In addition there is the need for a contemplative part in the busyness of ministry. The work of the Women’s Liturgical Movement is mentioned and its contribution to growth in spiritual depth and authenticity is explored. The matter of gender issues in ministry with couples features in an article which draws attention to the exegetical abuse of Genesis and Ephesians by those who seek to maintain patriarchy in the home and church.
There is a recurring theme that emphasises that spiritual life and direction need to take Christ’s involvement with the people of his day as an example. The relationship between God and Jesus is the kind of relationship that Jesus engendered with the people to whom he ministered. Spirituality is not only expressed in the confines of one’s individuality, but is to be recognised as a social activity as well. Herein lies the spatial aspect of the Christian life. A person’s relationship with God is expressed in relationship with the neighbour.
From a Protestant theology perspective, on occasions the book presents exegetical difficulties because of its catholic emphasis. However, bracketing these, the book provides a valuable tool for those involved in ordained and lay ministry, for reflection and guidance. The distinctive content of each of the articles dictates that this is not a book that can, or indeed, should be read as a matter of course. Each article demands its own attention, absorption and reflection, in order to receive benefit from it. The contemplative among us would relish the book, although I suspect that those who are more comfortable with doing rather than being, may find it an uncomfortable read
John A. Braakman
Edited by Simon Ditchfield
As the title suggests this volume of essays commemorates the retirement of the historian, John Bossy. It is part of the excellent St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History series, but it covers a great deal more than specifically Reformation issues and events as will become evident. This is an exceptional collection of original essays, each one of a very high academic standard and together forming a fascinating study of the complex relationship between religion (in its communal aspects) and social change.
Fundamentally, the volume seems to me to elaborate on a sentence quoted by one writer: “No, it is not the relative importance of historical phenomena we must seek, but their own significance, and that is why facts are dear to the historian” (p. 45, Colin Richmond quoting J. H. Huizinga). There are sixteen finely argued and very detailed essays that illustrate this principle. These are followed by a lengthy and interesting account and appreciation of John Bossy, himself.
One of John Bossy’s themes was that he felt he had discerned a fundamental shift in the relationship between Christianity and community in the West during the early modern period. He argued a diminishing sense of church as ‘community’ concurrently with an increased awareness of the individual’s relationship with God. From this rather negative platform he discerns a shift from religion understood as community to religion as primarily a confession of beliefs. And certainly as we look at the early modern period this has some truth in it. All of the essayists seem to write with Bossy’s characteristic agenda in mind; some seek to nuance his ideas, others argue against them as they stand. But all are clearly very appreciative.
Each of the chapters confronts in some way what it meant in history to be Christian community in the West. This, of course, is extremely appropriate. One of the major themes of Christianity is that of human relations — in family, church, village or town, and so on. However, the writers realistically treat the term ‘community’, “not as a tool of historical or sociological precision but more of a potent myth, value rather than simple fact” (Patrick Collinson, p. 137). There is, then, an underlying subject area (that of Christian community) but there is a fascinating variety about the essays within that. I cannot possibly do justice to this variety in so short a review, but I can pick out several essays by way of illustration.
Peter Biller sifts through the evidence of primary texts to show the Cathar “Good Men” as reluctant but consistent peacemakers in the thirteenth century. Barrie Dobson gives a somewhat nuanced account of what he calls “decline management” of two very different shrines in the fifteenth century. He concludes that, “It was very much more difficult to promote the spiritual ‘power’ … of St Thomas and St Cuthbert during the years between 1400 and the Reformation, than it had been in the more enthusiastic — and more credulous — atmosphere of two or three centuries earlier.”
Colin Richmond, in
“Three Suffolk Pieces”, suggests from very detailed evidence of people’s wills
that the common folk in the period before the Reformation were as concerned (or
more concerned) for their lands, livestock and chattels as they were about
their souls. Apparently they give the impression that they viewed devotion as
basically social. Claire Cross gives an account of the last years and brief
afterlife of the small monastic community of Monk Bretton priory in
There are essays following on the conservative voice in the later Tudor period (Eamon Duffy), on the way that woodcuts originally crafted for the Bishop’s Bible were later remarkably reused for ballad illustration (Margaret Aston), on the nostalgic treatment of Christianity in the idea of Merry England (Patrick Collinson), on the lay appropriation of vernacular metrical psalms (Ian Green), on Gallonio’s Historie about the virgin saints (Simon Ditchfield), on the communal nature of French Christian feasts (the only poor essay in my opinion: Jean-Louis Flandrin), on the changing opinions about St Francis of Assisi in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Mary Heimann), on science and the theological imagination in the debate over baptism in the seventeenth century (Adriano Prosperi).
Basically, as I have
intimated, almost all of the essays are first class. Two, however, seem
outstanding to me. The first is by Ludmilla Jordanova, “Richard Mead’s Communities of Belief in
Eighteenth Century London”; the second by William Sheils,
“Church, Community and Culture in Rural England, 1850-1900: J. C. Atkinson and
the Parish of Danby in
The former gives an
account of Richard Mead, a prominent
William Sheils’ essay is an account of the ministry of J. C.
Atkinson in late nineteenth century, northern
The volume is excellent: it challenges those of us who have a broad brush stroke mentality and approach by which we are continually generalising and comparing. It shows a genuine commitment to detail and to fact. It suggests tension between the concepts Christianity (as an ideal) and community (as it is realised locally). It certainly implies research possibility in the areas covered and in parallel concerns. It should be read by all engaged in history or the study of Christianity as a concrete reality.
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) xiv, 474pp. ISBN 0198263562
After a lifetime of scholarship into the church history of the Pacific
Breward divides the Christian history of the last two centuries in this region into seven periods. An initial period until about 1830 witnessed the transition from missions to churches and this development was followed by a period of organisational consolidation from the 1830s to the 1870s. For the rest of the nineteenth century he sees the organised churches concentrating on influencing their societies by the gospel, followed by recognition of new opportunities for missions and service at home and abroad. War and Depression are motifs for the middle period of the twentieth century, after which the churches set about attempting to create new societies. This final period of expansion and confidence was followed by the religious crisis and decline from the 1960s which has involved the churches in “searching for credibility”.
The book is a pioneering attempt to trace the development of
Inevitably in a book in which this history is brought together for the first time much of the focus is on the institutional churches of the region, with a great deal of attention given to the historical unfolding of the churches in their liturgical, constitutional, and pastoral developments. But Breward also recognises that the churches and their members were significant contributors to the wider histories of the various societies in which they were placed. However, although this institutional focus is a dominant and necessary one, Breward does not confine his history to that level. There are important sections on Christianity and business, politics and culture. An important theme of the book is the interaction of the Christian religion and the various local cultures it encountered as part of the colonising process. Here Breward indicates that this process was a two-way one in which both Christianity and indigenous cultures were influenced and altered. Breward is also clearly conscious of the impact of women’s and feminist history in the last decades and the work attends to both within the churches in each of the periods he examines.
Usefully throughout the work, Breward indicates where further research is needed, including, for example, local contextualisations of Christianity and the interaction of historical and mythological thinking, the Christian influence on business and eduction, and the role of women in colonial and national churches.
In a work which brings the Christian history of the region together for the first time there are understandably areas which any reader will find inadequate or overlooked. While Breward pays some attention to the destructive effects of colonialism and the Christianity intertwined with it, this reader would have liked more attention to some critical viewpoints of recent post-colonial historiography engendered by the views of Edward Said and others. Perhaps also more could have been said on the varieties of spirituality, though Breward does make useful observations on expressions of folk Christian religion which existed alongside official Christianity as a vital alternative.
But these are somewhat carping criticisms when placed alongside the depth and breadth of the scholarship displayed in the work. For the first time a reader has a monograph which provides a history of the Christianity of Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. It is a work which makes intelligible and accessible a great variety of scholarship and is a fitting fruit of the quality of critical scholarship which Ian Breward has engaged in for a lifetime. It will clearly be the standard work on the subject for years to come and will provide readers with both an intelligible historical outline and the starting point for innumerable researches into the history of the area. Breward is likely to encourage this in the fascination he so evidently conveys in this invaluable work.
(Department of the Parliamentary Library,
With doctorates in theology and political philosophy Marion Maddox is well placed to explore the interplay of theology, political perceptions and religio-political issues that suffuse amidst other eddies in the streams of Australian federal politics. Dr Maddox, as the 1999 Australian Parliamentary Fellow, produced this work which “explores religious influences and debate” in the Australian parliament in the period 1999-2001. It entailed interviews with around sixty current and past members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The opening chapter touches on such issues as the relation of church-going to Australians’ voting patterns, the religious affiliation of the leaders of the political parties in the 2001 parliament, and the effect of religion in people’s political formation.
Chapter Two surveys interesting comparisons between the
religious-political landscapes of the 1890s and the 1990s. In focus are the
debates over inclusion of the reference to God respectively in the Australian
Constitution and in the preamble rejected at the referendum in 1999. Maddox
draws the following contrast: “(at) the setting of
The chapter exploring “Religious and Political Vocation” amongst members of parliament focussed on various members’ perceptions of the practice of prayers at the opening of parliament, the taking of oaths, and ‘conscience’ voting. It ends with a number of parliamentarians’ responses to the issue: “Should religious convictions shape political views?”.
One aspect of political life in
The penultimate chapter entitled “
The final chapter surveys the difficulties Aboriginal and Islander
Maddox expresses her concern at the failure by Western judges and
lawyers to acknowledge religious dimensions as being substantial issues for
indigenous people. With the Mabo case in view she
comments that “religious meaning remains problematic for Australian courts”
which factor “must be a matter of concern” (p. 259). Included in this final
chapter is a perusal of assumptions contained within the dominant Western legal
and political culture of
In her conclusion Maddox describes
For those reasons and others besides, the interplay between religion
and politics in our federal parliament, and in Australian society generally,
needs careful attention. One way of contributing to that attention has been
provided by Marion Maddox in this important publication. This book will fill a
gap in the study of religion and politics in
AND THE “ORTHODOX PROBLEM”
Anna Marie Aagaard and Peter Bouteneff
The 1991 Canberra
Assembly of the World Council of Churches was marked by a major rift between
delegates of the Orthodox and of some Western churches. Prior to the Harare
Assembly of 1998, a gathering of Orthodox representatives declared their
dissatisfaction with the “present forms of Orthodox membership in the WCC” (p.
vii). Between these two Assemblies came the huge resurgence of church life in
the traditional Orthodox lands of
This is the question addressed by this book, co-authored by a Danish Lutheran with long-standing involvement in the ecumenical movement as well a notable academic career, and a faculty member of St Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in New York with a background in WCC administration. The question is approached with honesty and rigour. It parallels the work of the Special Commission in a more popular way, that nevertheless makes the issues accessible to a theologically literate and ecumenically minded readership. Each of the authors offers a lengthy chapter on ecclesiology, which they agree lies at the heart of the East–West misunderstanding.
The Orthodox contributor, Peter Bouteneff explains the Orthodox approach to the church as an article of faith, and as being — despite all appearances — “essentially sinless” (p. 26). Why do Western Christians instinctively balk at this epithet? Not perhaps because of the obvious “sins” of particular church leaders, more than ever in the daily news at present, but because we understand “sin” in a fundamentally moralistic sense. Bouteneff explains the sinlessness of the church in terms of its identity as the body of Christ. While Christ might well be sinless in the popular sense of the word — even non-Christians seem generally ready to affirm this much — Christ is also, more theologically understood, sinless in not being alienated from God, of being fully in communion with God the Father. It is in this sense that Christ’s body the church is also fundamentally sinless, i.e., in communion with God, despite the real abuses perpetrated at times by the official representatives of churches. “The point is that (the church’s) holiness and sinlessness as a body serves not only to heal the sinner, but also ever to call the sinner to holiness. Indeed, it could not be an effective healing place for sinners were it not itself holy and sinless” (p. 29). In other words, as popular wisdom has it, the church is the best place for sinners to be.
The other point of contention that Bouteneff refuses to shy away from is the church’s unity. Again, this is a counter-intuitive claim — the church is and always has been, divided. Yet the church is affirmed to be essentially one. The implication of this is that “there are no divisions within the church, only divisions from the Church” (p. 35). Does this unchurch the rest of us who are not Orthodox? If theology were a matter of logical syllogisms, the answer would be clearly yes. Fortunately, theology — especially Orthodox theology — is customarily more generous of spirit than to restrict itself to the syllogistic method: “while we can say for certain where the church is, we cannot say for certain where it isn’t” (p. 41). This is not a matter of laziness, of fudging the issue by reference to “mystery”, but “an acknowledgement that somewhere in between the complexity of fallen human divisions and the simplicity of God there is a space that we cannot fully describe or define” (p. 42). This is not to suggest that Bouteneff is somehow a “tame” Orthodox, saying only what non-Orthodox ecumenists will want to hear. He states the Orthodox claims for the church without compromise, while also allowing room for conversation.
The Lutheran contributor, Anna Marie Aagaard, also focuses on ecclesiology, though again through the traditional Orthodox lenses of worship and tradition. Her reiterated complaint is that in ecumenical dialogues “a lot happens but nothing changes” (p. 89, p. 97). The problem she identifies is, she suggests, not an Orthodox problem at all, but (citing Georg Kretschmar, p. 86) a problem inherent in the medieval Western infatuation with the word. This in turn has had its effect on Protestantism — she quotes Edwin Muir’s devastating line “the Word made flesh here is made word again” (p. 76) — and in turn on what passes for ecumenical worship and ecclesiology. Her concern is for honesty in attempting “actually (to) live in the reality of who we all are” (p. 116), rather than presenting outwardly an appearance of what we think our dialogue partners might want to see. And the reality of who we are is a “community which speaks thus, and not otherwise, of God and of the world and human beings” (p. 93). The church, the matter of ecclesiology in other words, becomes what it really is in community, by hearing and saying, and above all “by confessing, not merely reciting” (p. 93) the creeds, in common worship. Aagaard’s argument is informed here by George Lindbeck’s cultural-linguistic model of doctrine, just as it is elsewhere informed by Jürgen Moltmann’s continuum of relevance and identity (p. 77ff). But Aagaard in each case seeks to go beyond these models, using them to address a specific ecumenical issue, and to give life to a specific ecumenical dialogue. There are dangers in this dialogue: “Each attempt at doctrinal agreement, not to mention proposals of shared liturgical calendars, common worship and common witness, activates internal conflicts in the churches and threatens to create new splits between the churches” (p. 89).
Aagaard draws attention to some implicit phenomena in the ecumenical movement. All churches — not just those that explicitly claim indefectibility — at least implicitly embody a claim to “have all it takes” to be the one holy church (p. 91, p. 97). More positively, all churches — even those that have not historically acknowledged seven ecumenical councils — are adopting liturgical practices that at least implicitly acknowledge them, and this is not without ecclesiological significance (p. 92).
Aagaard’s section of the book makes these implicit phenomena more explicit. There remain,
however, different understandings of authority and different practices as to
who makes particular decisions (p. 88). These differences will not be quickly
resolved. In the end, the question is: “Can churches forgive one another? Can
they offer and receive the space-creating forgiveness of their mutually
excluding self-sufficiency?” (p. 103) Aagaard’s answer to her own rhetorical question sounds pessimistic: “Seemingly not.” But
note also the “seemingly”. Maybe there is indeed space for the Spirit — a space
that we cannot fully describe or define. Certainly it is an enormous advantage
to ecumenical dialogue — as we have joyfully discovered, for example, in the
Anglican-Lutheran dialogue in
Both major sections of the book are closely argued, and each author concludes briefly by responding to the other. The book is a valuable, realistic contribution to ecumenical dialogue between churches of the Eastern and Western traditions. It offers no quick fix to the problem but a plea for honesty — both in conversation with each other and with ourselves. It is an important book for anyone with an interest either generally in ecumenism or more specifically in the “Orthodox problem”.
Hearth, household and family are three images more traditionally associated with nuclear family theology and patriarchal family values than with feminist perspectives. Yet Nancy Victorin-Vangerud reclaims each of these symbols as icons for an authentic feminist pneumatology in her book The Raging Hearth: Spirit in the Household of God. Her “feminist maternal pneumatology of mutual recognition” seeks to take seriously the struggle of families to be communities — to value diversity with dignity, confront household fears and their suppressions, and allow the sparks of human interaction to ignite a raging hearth of inclusion. This raging hearth has all the volatility and power of an inferno with its capacity for social transformation based in the difficult and ambiguous struggle that lies at its heart.
Victorin-Vangerud’s work begins in the pain of families — repression in family groups, transgression in faith communities, and suppression in the Christian community. From the “incendiary” events of the World Council of Churches’ Seventh Assembly to sexual misconduct by church leaders and the oppressive results of the abuse of power in family situations, Victorin-Vangerud confronts the struggle involved in the search for communities of “mutual recognition”. Essentially, she maintains that “A feminist maternal pneumatology of mutual recognition situates itself not in the doxological mystery of the immanent Trinitarian model, but in the groans and gasps, joys and anguish of postmodern feminist families struggling day-to-day beyond economies of unilateral power, coercion, and subordination” (p. 212). Instead of setting up an idealised community of the Trinity in order to impose a particular regime on idealised human communities, Victorin-Vangerud begins with the struggles of human communities to overcome unhealthy and oppressive power dynamics as the basis for attempting to understand the dynamic of the work of the Spirit in community (divine and human).
Her recounting of the impact of the controversy surrounding the presentation of Chung Hyun Kyung to the WCC 7th Assembly reads this event as the moment that illuminated the new ecumenical struggle for community and raised the question of the role of the Spirit within that struggle. Following the theological trajectory of a return to the Spirit, Victorin-Vangerud consults a range of writers from Michael Welker to José Comblin and Anselm Min, Sallie McFague to Jürgen Moltmann. McFague’s metaphorical Theology and Moltmann’s social Trinitarianism are identified as “the starting points for a feminist turn to the Spirit beyond household monotheism”. This turn seeks to take seriously the three persons of the Trinity as persons in community, in defiance of the patriarchal household structure with its dominant paterfamilias figure.
Having identified the ecclesiastical and theological context for her exploration, Victorin-Vangerud turns to the “re-figuring” of family life in the late twentieth century. This re-figuring acknowledged diversity, defied accepted stereotypes and ideals, exposed the experience of family violence and asked uncomfortable questions about actual behaviour and its results in all kinds of family settings. Victorin-Vangerud acknowledges the ambiguous role of families as places of exploitation and violence as well as fulfilment and sustenance in this context. While highlighting the focus of “common ground advocates” (p. 62) on mutual self-sacrifice as a source for discovering community in families, Victorin-Vangerud returns to a re-figuration of the first feminist theological question of the late 20th century (Valerie Saiving, 1961): “But what about the need for self-assertion?” Is it really possible for mutuality to exist if the parties withdraw from one another rather than confront each other as persons?
The focus on re-figuring moves to congregational life and the “democratization of churches, mirroring the democratization of families” (p. 68). This exploration moves across issues of post-Christendom paradigms, generational changes, and the “betrayal of trust in the household of God” (p. 79) to the vision of “a new poetics of community” (p. 86). It allows Victorin-Vangerud to affirm the claiming of an “ethic of mutuality” in church life as well as in family life (p. 88).
Victorin-Vangerud’s “maternal interlude” (p. 89) deals with the vulnerable politics of motherhood. In a patriarchal system, mothers are placed in an ambiguous position on “the fulcrum of power and powerlessness” (cf Rita Nakashima Brock) between the power of the father and the powerlessness of the child. This position is privileged, and fraught with the risks of being both abused and abuser. Victorin-Vangerud does not withdraw from confrontation with the realities of the latter. By exploring the work of Sarah Ruddick, Jessica Benjamin and Alice Miller, and experiences of motherhood, Victorin-Vangerud extracts a vision of mutuality in families that “challenges poisonous trust and obedient conformity” in favour of “proper trust and mutual recognition” (p. 114).
From “poisonous pedagogy” in patriarchal family models, Victorin-Vangerud moves to “poisonous pneumatology in the patriarchal household of God” where “the paternal metaphor for God has become an idolatrous and intransigent patriarchal model with implications of governance at the national, ecclesiastical, business, and family levels” (p. 117). Tracing family patterns from “ancient Mediterranean family life” (p. 119) to the “family relativisation” (p. 124) of early Christianity and the re-entrenchment of patriarchal family values in later Christian history, Victorin-Vangerud identifies the ambiguous functioning of “Spirit language” across this spectrum. Spirit language has domesticated and subordinated as well as promoted “freedom and community” (p. 141). The ambiguous position of the Spirit in patriarchal theology mirrors the ambiguous positioning of motherhood in patriarchal histories.
Where do we move from here to reframe a pneumatology beyond the “economy of the Same” — the “fundamental theological model” where “the patriarchal family (or kyriocentric household) promoted social unity as uniformity, in which personal or ministerial differentiation was interpreted as a seditious act” (p. 143)? Victorin-Vangerud visits Jürgen Moltmann’s “Spirit of the Cross” (p. 145ff), Michael Welker’s “Spirit of Justice and Mercy” (pp. 153ff) and Colin Gunton’s “Spirit of Particularity” (pp. 158ff) to trace the hope of community where “love and trust are mediated within a divine dance of intersubjective communion” (p. 163). But love and trust undergirded only by “the sacrificial values of self-surrender, self-withdrawal, and self-giving” (p. 163) are not enough for true perichoresis where self-commitment, self-assertion and self-care are required.
In her penultimate chapter, Victorin-Vangerud gently moves a feminist Christological focus into a pneumatological focus as the site for discovering “We who are in the midst of struggle” (p. 184) in response to the God who also struggles to be community. This tour ensures that the womanist voices of Jacquelyn Grant and Anne Pattel-Gray are heard alongside those of Mary Daly and Rosemary Radford-Ruether. It is Elizabeth Johnson’s turn to the Spirit within the Sophia-God “SHE WHO IS” that helps to form the concept of “We who are in the midst of struggle”.
Victorin-Vangerud concludes her journey by visiting the “Gentile Pentecost” of Acts 10— to claim a working towards mutual recognition where conflict is embraced, fears are faced and the struggle of relationship is entered and maintained. In this place, the Spirit is the “cunning of diversity” (p. 195) — that which sustains dignity in diversity, allowing persons to be persons. The only way to the “perichoresis of mutual recognition” is through this “hearth of risky transformation” (p. 196) — a journey embodied in struggle.
By clearly situating theology in praxis, Victorin-Vangerud’s pneumatology ensures that readers also face a struggle of relationship with the text, although the style of the work is very readable. Readers are asked to make the same confrontation inherent in Victorin-Vangerud’s pneumatology of mutual recognition: the confrontation between persons, in experience and the struggle of relationship. Like all good struggles for mutual recognition, there is a certain satisfaction in reaching the end of this argument’s progression.
Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson
With a book about eschatology, it is reasonable to ask, ‘What would you expect?’ That really is the subject. What are we to expect from and with God? On what basis do we move from past to future — and thus how do we understand the present? These questions are central to that area of theology called eschatology and thus we can reasonably expect a collection of essays on this subject to offer us some guidance as to what we might expect.
It would appear, from one or two notes within the book, that the essays arise from papers given, perhaps at a symposium. The editor does not indicate this and without any such understanding of its context, nor any explanation of the rationale of selection I found the papers an unusual collection, diverse and yet lacking in scope.
There has been an interesting rush of theological writing on eschatology in the last few years. After the turn of the millennium, theologians now offer their pearls! So I found it valuable to consider how this anthology might assist a reader in gaining an orientation to the field. Does the book provide an introduction to the scope of current scholarship, or a grounding from which one could explore a range of other approaches?
A short preface by the editors is followed by the clearest article, in
which Wolfhart Pannenberg describes ‘The Task of Christian Eschatology’. In characteristic declarative
style, Pannenberg sets Christian theology with, yet
over-against, contemporary thought. Christian doctrine must be related to the
predicament of human life in the world, yet such faith cannot be known to be
true if it “gives a priority to adaptation to the secular mentality” (p. 1).
The basis and content of Christian hope is the subject matter. The faithful may
hope for “unending communion with the eternal God”, which has implications for
individual lives, for a life in communion with other persons and for life in
relationship with “the world of creation”. This two-sentence sketch of the
shape of Christian eschatology helpfully leads to a consideration of the nature
In the next three essays, we are led into the contribution of apocalyptic to Christian eschatology. Carl Braaten writes on “The recovery of apocalyptic imagination”. Robert Jenson offers a short piece called “The Great Transformation”, which helpfully suggests that the end is a final polity, the New Jerusalem, a last judgment, not of repudiation but the joy of reconciliation and healing of all that is broken, and deification, as all of our life is taken into the life of God. Paul Hanson’s “Prophetic and Apocalyptic Politics” asserts that it will address the relation of faith to political process. What follows is a defence of a particular view of biblical faith against the ‘assault’ of postmodern thought, fundamentalism and contemporary hermeneutical approaches which seek to build consensus with the contemporary society. Alasdair MacIntyre is condemned for encouraging ‘hermeneutical solipsism’ and Walter Brueggemann for the “tendency in recent theology to imitate popular cultural trends” (pp. 48 & 49). Postmodern thinking is represented as inherently cynical and relativist. For Hanson, a contemporary political theology must adopt a prophetic rather than an apocalyptical approach. The latter may be appropriate in some situations where faith communities live under adverse circumstances, but in the Western world a prophetic response requires “faithful commitment and moral engagement”. What precisely this means is not spelt out, except to say that the modus operandi for such engagement is given to the church, to minimise inertia and release its potential for contributing to society. Hanson stresses the centrality of worship and asserts that through “the word and its exposition” the church will find “the moral principles that form the basis for appropriate action” (p. 65). This is the closest this volume comes to any kind of political engagement and here we see both the strength and the limitations of this highly modernist, ‘biblical’ approach to systematic theology. These scholars tell us what the Bible says (but without offering us the biblical scholarship on which these claims are grounded), they offer a sweeping analysis of all western societies, without suggesting reference to any specific people groups or situations, and then make highly general claims about what the church must be doing. No practical theologians, ethicists, or liberationists, nor even one woman theologian is given a voice in this collection. Little wonder that such colleagues consider systematic theology unhelpful to them!
Arland Hultgren’s paper on “Eschatology in the New Testament: The Current Debate” engages with several prominent members of the Jesus Seminar. The paper juxtaposes Weiss’s argument for an eschatological Jesus with the non-eschatological Jesus of Borg and Funk. Hultgren critiques the specific formulation of the Q document and the authority given to the Gospel of Thomas, both significant sources for Borg and Funk, and other Jesus Seminar scholars such as Crossan. This is a worthy discussion and will be found helpful by those who are unsure how to navigate between more traditional approaches and these very prominent but controversial representations of Jesus. In the end, however, Hultgren’s dismissal of the non-eschatological Jesus approach is I think unworthy. He critiques the search for a non-eschatological Jesus on the basis that it is seeking to accommodate faith to a secular society and the popularity of “non-ecclesial spirituality”. A non-eschatological Jesus is one who is “available within one’s own private spirituality” and is liberated from the dogma of a faith community and any engagement with saints, in breaking bread and searching together for the coming of God’s kingdom (p. 88). This is a crucial concern, but it is scarcely fair to Marcus Borg in particular, who has written with passion about how the church needs to be and must be renewed through “meeting Jesus again” and calls for a more relational and engaged form of faith, contrasting with the individualist belief-centred focus of more traditional forms of the church.
The remaining essays in the book reflect topical interests. David Novak
is a Jewish scholar who writes on “Law and Eschatology: a Jewish-Christian
Intersection”. It is interesting to have a Jewish scholar interpreting the
early Christian era as emerging from a Jewish ‘obsession’ with eschatology. A
long discussion of first-century Jewish movements and their struggles with the
significance of the Law leads (though without clear connections) to some
comments on what Jews and Christians today might have to learn from each other
about the importance of eschatology. Next, church historian John McGuckin writes on “The Book of Revelation and Orthodox
Eschatology: the Theodrama of Judgment”.
This comment leads me to consider how one might appraise such a collection as this. The quality and clarity of writing is fine. Some of the essays are incisive and helpful, but as an anthology its seems to lack an overall editorial coherence. Not that an anthology must ‘push a line’, but one would expect some indication of the basis of selection and arrangement of ideas and approaches represented. One is left with the unhappy thought that these authors are those considered acceptable to a particular line of thinking.
The volume cannot be considered an introduction to the field. It is too selective for that. As noted earlier, there is no serious consideration of Moltmann’s theology. Not one woman theologian is given a voice in this collection, nor is liberationist thought; nor are differing approaches permitted to speak in their own right. The collection does not offer a balanced overview of contemporary directions in theological reflection. Since the volume purports to offer biblical perspectives one might have expected that at least one essay would be written by a biblical scholar, dealing for example with the lively debate about the interpretation of Mark 13; yet the only essay which deals in depth with any texts is written by a church historian. It may be acceptable to be so selective, but the rationale for doing so needs to be clearly made out.
On the other hand, one should ask of any theological book whether it contributes to our understanding of God and the witness of the community whose faith is grounded in Jesus Christ. Here the answer must be a clear “Yes”, with the affirmation of a number of these essays for their clarity, insight and encouragement of readers to embrace the significance and hope that is found in following the way of the crucified and risen Christ. These strengths might have been enhanced by a vision of theology and faith that is not so defensive and particularist, but welcomes the diversity and plurality of contexts and communities without losing itself. But that in turn would need a much clearer sense that the continuity between diverse communities of faith and experience is not grounded in the formulations of theology as such, but in a living and dynamic Spirit who enables us really to engage with the history of God and the promise of a continuing life in and with God, now — and for ever.
Frank D Rees
Revd. Dr Ray G. Barraclough, Lecturer in NT, Academic Dean, St Francis’ Theological College, Milton, Qld.
Revd. Dr John
A. Braakman, Minister of
J. Cohen, Head, Department of Ministry and Training for Churches of Christ in
Revd. Dr Neil Darragh, Principal, Catholic
Institute of Theology,
Anita Monro, Dean of Postgraduate Studies,
Revd. Prof. Christiaan Mostert, Professor in
Systematic Theology, Uniting Church Theological Hall,
Michael Parsons, Lecturer in Systematic Theology,
Frank Rees, Professor in Systematic Theology,
Duncan Reid, Dean, United Faculty of Theology,
Prof. Elaine Wainwright, Professor of Theology,
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