Some more perspectives on whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God

The Syrian Orthodox Church and the Omar Mosque, Old Town, Bethlehem, Palestine.

The Syrian Orthodox Church and the Omar Mosque, Old Town, Bethlehem, Palestine.

Two very constructive contributions to the discussion birthed from recent events at Wheaton College:

  1. Robert Priest, Professor of International Studies and Professor of Mission and Anthropology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is concerned ‘over the way Wheaton [College] has framed the issues, over the repercussions of this for Christian witness, and over the failure to include missiologists and missionaries as interlocutors’. By way of response, he invited a number of evangelical and other respected missiologists and missionaries – those, in other words, whose insights have been mostly tragically absent in this discussion – ‘to write short essays addressing the following question: “What are the missiological implications of affirming, or denying, that Muslims and Christians worship the same God?”’ The result is a very helpful and much-welcomed resource, this Occasional Bulletin’ from The Evangelical Missiological Society (EMS).
  2. The Australian theologian Geoff Thompson, of Pilgrim Theological College, has posted ‘an observation, some other questions, a concern, and a personal reflection’ here.

I also really appreciated this brief and timely reflection from Matthew Milliner (of Wheaton College), delivered at the Islamic Center of Wheaton.

I commend these resources to you. And if you, dear readers, come across any other such resources on this subject, you are encouraged to draw attention to them in the comments box below.

[Image: Palden Jenkins]

Speights and Barth on real men


Whether we’re talking of Monteiths, or Three Boys, or Emersons, or West Coast Brewing, New Zealand’s south island can boast being the home of some really decent beers (my own home brew included). One of the local favourites is Speights, whose Old Dark I’ve been enjoying of late. One of the most alluring features of Speights is their ad campaign, exploiting all the time-honoured associations between beer, horses, open spaces and ‘real’ men. Not only are there the amazing photos, (the ones of the river crossing and of the stag are two of my favourites) but one can also complete the Southern Man ID Chart, and sing the Southern Man Song which promotes:

Now I might not be rich
But I like things down here
We got the best looking girls
And the best damn beer
So you can keep your Queen City [Auckland]
With your cocktails and cool
Give me a beer in a seven
With the boys shooting pool

All part of what it means to be a ‘real’ man, right?

And then there’s Barth’s account in CD III/2 of what being a ‘real’ man looks like:

Real man lives with God as His covenant-partner. For God has created him to participate in the history in which God is at work with him and he with God; to be His partner in this common history of the covenant. He created him as His covenant-partner. Thus real man does not live a godless life – without God. A godless explanation of man, which overlooks the fact that he belongs to God, is from the very outset one which cannot explain real man, man himself. Indeed, it cannot even speak of him. It gropes past him into the void. It grasps only the sin in which he breaks the covenant with God and denies and obscures his true reality. Nor can it really explain or speak of his sin. For to do so it would obviously have to see him first in the light of the fact that he belongs to God, in his determination by the God who created him, and in the grace against which he sins. Real man does not act godlessly, but in the history of the covenant in which he is God’s partner by God’s election and calling. He thanks God for His grace by knowing Him as God, by obeying Him, by calling on Him as God, by enjoying freedom from Him and to Him. He is responsible before God, i.e., He gives to the Word of God the corresponding answer. That this is the case, that the man determined by God for life with God is real man, is decided by the existence of the man Jesus. Apart from anything else, this is the standard of what his reality is and what it is not. It reveals originally and definitively why God has created man. The man Jesus is man for God. As the Son of God He is this in a unique way. But as He is for God, the reality of each and every other man is decided. God has created man for Himself. And so real man is for God and not the reverse. He is the covenant-partner of God. He is determined by God for life with God. This is the distinctive feature of his being in the cosmos. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III.2 (ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Thomas F. Torrance; trans. Harold Knight, et al.; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1960), 203.

To be sure, I’ll keep enjoying my Old Dark, and Speights’ amazing pics, but as for me and my house (even though there’s been some question in the past about the manliness of my manhood), we’re going with Uncle Karl on this one.



Tony Kelly on the ‘saturated phenomena’ of the child

children-1I have posted earlier on the theologies of childhood proffered by Calvin, Schleiermacher, Barth and Jensen (all Reformed perspectives), and on that of Karl Rahner. In this post, I turn to Australian Roman Catholic theologian Anthony Kelly on the ‘saturated phenomena’ of the child[1]. In his essay, ‘Spirituality and the Child’, Kelly identifies five phenomena of the child:

1. A unique ‘revelation’. The child comes in the form of a unique ‘revelation’, breaking into the experience of human community as the ‘occurrence of the new, at once a gift and a promise given into the heart of life’. In this way, the child is a ‘focus of wonder at the generativity of the universe’. The child calls the whole human family to a ‘new responsibility, if parents and relatives are to receive this gift of a new beginning in reverence and care. Consequently, the child invites certain questions: In a child, what new thing is being given and revealed?

2. An ‘event’. The child is an ‘event’. Despite the vulnerability of both the child and parent, the event or advent of a child has the potential to affect the lives and thinking of all around it. It evokes a new sense of both the past and the as-yet-undetermined future. Consequently, the arrival of a child is ‘an open-ended, transformative event. It is no fait accompli in terms of assignable causes and predictable effects, but an advent whose significance overflows as a unique new presence within the constitution of family, society and even world-history. To this degree, it is in the nature of such an event to resist calculated prediction of outcomes, but to inspire waiting, fidelity and hope, if what is given is to be received in its incalculable significance’.[2] The event – or advent – of the child also poses a number of questions:

  • What has really happened in this coming?
  • What might be its effect on parents, siblings, wider family, society, creation?
  • How might the Church wait with couples in pregnancy?
  • How might the gift of child be played out in church, family and in event of creation itself?
  • What is the nature of hope?

children-33. A gift and event. Kelly writes:

Despite the possibilities of violence and exploitation inherent in a grossly sexual objectification of relationships, the child is a witness to something else. He embodies, within the intimacy, ecstasy and generativity of our incarnate existence, a distinctively personal order of relationships. For she implicitly demands to be received as something more than a biological product of two sexual agents, and so to provoke a larger sense of life.[3]

This invites further questions:

  • What is this larger sense of life?
  • To what mystery/ies of life does the event of child point?
  • How, in the Christian phenomenology of life centred in the Incarnation, is the child related to the Word who is himself made flesh, given into creation from the eternal generativity of God?

4. Something akin to a work of ‘art’. Like any work of art, the phenomenon of the child resists one-dimensional interpretations, resists detainment, resists ‘pre-designed space’. Instead, ‘its power is to command its own space and change the place given it’.[4] Kelly cites the poem, ‘Five Days Old’, by Australian poet Francis Webb (1925-1973). For most of his life Webb suffered with mental depression and was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 1950s. ‘He spent most of his adult life in and out of psychiatric hospitals, writing poetry against terrible odds’.[5] In England during the war, he was being treated by a young Canadian doctor who had invited him home around Christmastime. The young parents put their five day old Christopher John in the poet’s arms, and left him alone for a while. This poem was the result:

Christmas is in the air.
You are given into my hands
Out of quietest, loneliest lands.
My trembling is all my prayer.
To blown straw was given
All the fullness of Heaven.

children-4The tiny, not the immense,
Will teach our groping eyes.
So the absorbed skies
Bleed stars of innocence.

So cloud-voice in war and trouble
Is at last Christ in the stable.

Now wonderingly engrossed
In your fearless delicacies,
I am launched upon sacred seas,
Humbly and utterly lost
In the mystery of creation,

Bells, bells of ocean.

Too pure for my tongue to praise,
That sober, exquisite yawn
Or the gradual, generous dawn
At an eyelid, maker of days:
To shrive my thought for perfection
I must breathe old tempests of action

childrens-shoesFor the snowflake and face of love.
Windfall and word of truth.
Honour close to death.
O eternal truthfulness, Dove,
Tell me what I hold –
Myrrh? Frankincense? Gold?

If this is man, then the danger
And fear are as lights of the inn,
Faint and remote as sin
Out here in the manger.
In the sleeping, weeping weather
We shall all kneel down together.

  • In what ways is a child like/unlike a work of art?
  • How does the coming of such vulnerability change/disrupt the life of a family? Of a faith community?
  • How does the coming of such vulnerability call for new vision and ecclesiological modus operandi?
  • How does the coming of such vulnerability call for ‘reconciliation among those whose murderous demands have foreclosed on new possibilities and made the world a dangerous place for children’?
  • How might childhood point to the open-endedness of life?
  • How might childhood resist calls to shut down eschatological hope?

children-25. The ‘face’ of an other. So Kelly:

The face of the other is not a projection on one’s part of the other as an object, useful, exploitable or ignored … It stands for the totality of the reality of the other as given, calling me to responsibility. To allow oneself to be ‘faced’ by the other in this way, is to be called out of oneself, to make room for this other, however unsettling this may prove.[7]

Again this raises a series of challenges:

  • Children are often easy to ignore in our communities. How might the children in our communities pose a challenge that we cannot afford to set aside or to palm off onto others?
  • What does the child call those engaged in Christian ministry to?

[1] The phrase ‘saturated phenomena’ is taken from Jean-Luc Marion, De Surcroît: Études sur les phénomènes saturées (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2001).

[2] Anthony J. Kelly, ‘Spirituality and the Child’ in Children, Adolescents and Spirituality (ed. Marian de Souza and Winifred Wing Han Lamb; Adelaide: ATF Press, 2008), 14. Italics mine.

[3] Ibid., 15.

[4] Ibid., 15.

[5] Carol Treloar, ‘Poetic Australians’, The Advertiser, 7 September 1991.

[6] Francis Webb, ‘Five Days Old’ in The Oxford Book of Australian Religious Verse (ed. Kevin Hart; Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 225. Italics mine.

[7] Kelly, ‘Spirituality and the Child’, 17.

John Webster on the task of Christian theological anthropology

webster‘The task of Christian theological anthropology is to depict evangelical (that is, Gospel-constituted) humanism. It aims to display the vision of human identity and flourishing which is ingredient within the Gospel’s announcement that, in the being, action, and speech of Jesus Christ, the crucified who is now alive and present in the Spirit’s power, the good purposes of God the Father for his human creation are established and their completion is promised. Christian theological anthropology offers a portrayal of the nature and destiny of humankind by explicating the Gospel’s disclosure of the works and ways of the triune God’. – John Webster, ‘The Human Person’ in The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 219.

Karl Rahner on a theology of childhood

RahnerTragically, there remains a tendency in our own day to ‘instrumentalise’ childhood, and so to devalue childhood qua childhood. So Martha Stortz: We point children ‘too rapidly toward the adults they will become’. Childhood is not ‘something you do on the way to becoming an adult’.

One of the most valuable finds while preparing a course recently on a theology of the child has been Karl Rahner’s essay, ‘Ideas for a Theology of Childhood’ in which he was very critical of the cognitive developmental theory approach to assessing childrens’ ‘value’. In the essay Rahner is concerned about a number of things, which Martin Marty helpfully discusses under the following headings:

1. That we interpret the existence of children in a biblical matrix: that we first hear ‘what the divinely revealed word has to say about childhood. In the intention of the Creator and Redeemer of children what meaning does childhood have, and what task does it lay upon us for the perfecting and saving of humanity?’

2. That this beginning represents mystery unveiled. Consequently, those who care for/about children will delight in each act of unveiling and find meaning therein.

[C]hildhood is, in the last analysis, a mystery. It has the force of a beginning and a twofold beginning at that. It is a beginning in the sense of the absolute origin of the individual, and also the beginning which plunges its roots into a history over which the individual himself has no control. Childhood has the force of a beginning such that the future which corresponds to it is not simply the unfolding of some latent interior force, but something freely sent and something which actually comes to meet one. And it is not until this future is actually attained to that the beginning itself is unveiled in its significance, that it is actually given and comes to its own realisation, as a beginning which is open to the absolute beginning of God who is utter mystery, the ineffable and eternal, nameless and precisely as such accepted with love in his divine nature as he who presides over all things.

Put differently, it takes eschatology to make sense of human personhood. He goes on:

… we do not really know what childhood means at the beginning of our lives until we know what that childhood means which comes at the end of them; that childhood, namely, in which, by God-given repentance and conversion, we receive the kingdom of God and so become children. It is in this sense that we only recognise the child at the beginning of life from the child of the future.

sinead-13. That the child is open to God, who is the utter mystery.

4. The child is ‘effable’ but finds her origin in God’s ineffability (beyond words). This means, among other things, that those who care for and think about children – including theologians – will recognise in humility that we lack the words and concepts to penetrate the deep mystery of childhood (or human personhood full stop) which lies in God.

5. The child is to resist efforts by adults to control.

6. The child exists always at the threshold of the eternal.

7. The naming of the child is significant.

8. The child is accepted into divine love. On this Marty writes:

God in God’s divine nature always reaches out to accept creatures in love. The child may often deny, ignore, or even repudiate the love of God, also when it is reflected in the faces, arms, and acts of parents and others. Recovery of love, however, always can begin when that little child is allowed and encouraged to remain open to the eternal and thus is able to receive signs of divine love. Though the child is born into a world of accident, chance, contingency, and random happenings she will finally address it in openness to the One “who presides over all things.” Rahner expresses it tersely: “childhood is openness. Human childhood is infinite openness”.

9. The child is an independent and a dependent being.

10. Original childhood is preserved forever. This is a fascinating notion of Rahner’s:

[P]rovided we reverently and lovingly preserve this state of being delivered over to the mystery, life becomes for us a state in which our original childhood is preserved for ever; a state in which we are open to expect the unexpected, to commit ourselves to the incalculable, a state which endows us with the power still to be able to play, to recognise that the powers presiding over our existence are greater than our own designs, and to submit to their control as our deepest good.

Through this essay, Rahner rejects the notion that we progress through ‘stages’ or that we can talk about any life as a series of phases ‘each of which … is exhausted [and] leads on to the next, the very meaning of which is to disappear into the next, to be a preparation for it, to “exist” for the further stages beyond itself’. In such a scenario, he says, ‘childhood itself disappears’. Instead, he insists on the most profound sense of continuity of life. In Marty’s words, ‘For all that flows over the river bed, its base is not mud but rock: in this metaphor, the mystery of the child remains’. Or in Rahner’s:

We only become the children whom we were because we gather up time – and in this our childhood too – into our eternity … The special character of childhood may always be fading away so far as we are concerned, and may also disappear into that which comes afterwards in point of time, so that it seems only to derive its justification and its value from this, but this is not so. This morning does not derive its life simply from the afternoon which follows.

11. The child is open to expecting the unexpected.

12. Play has a special quality. Here we are reminded of Schleiermacher’s theology of the child, and of Barth’s venerating affair with Mozart.

sinead13. The child remains in an ambiguous relation to the concept and practice of control and controlling. Rahner speaks about the need for children to ‘recognise that the powers presiding over our existence are greater than our own designs, and to submit to their control as our deepest good’.

14. The child’s ending is revealed in the beginning.

15. The child is best revealed as a child of God. So Rahner:

… the childhood which belongs to the child in the biological sense is only the beginning, the prelude, the foretaste and the promise of this other childhood, which is the childhood proved and tested and at the same time assailed, which is present in the mature man. In other words we must take childhood in this latter sense as the true and proper childhood, the fulness of that former childhood, the childhood of immaturity.

But once we perceive the unity which exists between the childhood that comes at the beginning of our lives and the mature childhood, and once we realise the light which each throws upon the other, then it easily becomes clear that childhood in itself, and even at the human level, entails an orientation to God, that it achieves perfection in that relationship which we call being a child of God, that it is not merely a question of a metaphor, the transference of a word from one objective situation to another similar one, in which the comparison is merely secondary and incidental. Here it is rather the reality of childhood in the human sense that is ‘transferred’ into childhood in the divine sense. For if childhood (and this applies to childhood in the human sense as well) is openness, is trustful submission to control by another, the courage to allow fresh horizons, ever new and ever wider, to be opened up before one, a readiness to journey into the untried and the untested (and all this with that deep elemental and ultimate trust which seems inexhaustible in its endurance, the trust which the sceptics and those who have made shipwreck of their lives bitterly describe as ‘naïve’) then in all this that transcendence of faith, hope and love in which the ultimate essence of the basic act of religion precisely consists is already ipso facto an achieved and present fact …

Childhood is openness. Human childhood is infinite openness. The mature childhood of the adult is the attitude in which we bravely and trustfully maintain an infinite openness in all circumstances and despite the experiences of life which seem to invite us to close ourselves. Such openness, infinite and maintained in all circumstances, yet put into practice in the actual manner in which we live our lives, is the expression of man’s religious existence.

Rahner’s essay raises questions about the trinitarian shape of Christian anthropology – that human personhood can be ‘understood’ only insofar as we speak of the dynamic and perichoretic life of God – i.e. of Father, Son and Spirit in their giving and receiving, and in their perfect unity. And so Rahner talks not only about divine Fatherhood – that childhood takes its meaning and raison d’être from the Fatherhood of God, and that maturity means growing into fuller realisation of our being children of the Father – but also about the fact that human being is grounded in the sonship of the Son:

… all childhood in heaven and on earth derives its name and its origin from that one childhood in which the Logos itself receives its own nature in the act of eternal generation by the Father, in which we ourselves are admitted by grace to become participants in this self-bestowal of the Father upon the Logos and so have a share in the divine nature … Childhood is only truly understood, only realises the ultimate depths of its own nature, when it is seen as based upon the foundation of childhood of God. And when we really want to know what the real connection is between human childhood and childhood of God, then we need to commit ourselves to the infinite depths and power of that transcendental movement which is latent in human childhood itself, and allow ourselves to be projected from this into that which is enjoined upon us in the Christian teaching about the Father in heaven, and about men who have received the grace from the life of God himself to be children of God and brothers and sisters of one another.

william-adolphe-bouguereau-a-childhood-idyll-1900Rahner fails (in this essay) to go on and develop the pneumatalogical dimensions of childhood – and of human being – though this final sentence at least hints of the communality of personhood, that one’s identity is ontologically bound up with that of the other, a reality only truly possible in the Spirit.

One of Rahner’s most pastorally potent claims, however, is his insistence that we do not lose or leave behind our childhood; rather, our childhood goes with us into our eternity:

Childhood endures as that which is given and abiding, the time that has been accepted and lived through freely. Childhood does not constitute past time, time that has eroded away, but rather that which remains, that which is coming to meet us as an intrinsic element in the single and enduring completeness of the time of our existence considered as a unity, that which we call the eternity of man as saved and redeemed. We do not lose childhood as that which recedes ever further into our past, that which remains behind as we advance forward in time, but rather we go towards it as that which has been achieved in time and redeemed forever in time. We only become the children whom we were because we gather up time – and in this our childhood too – into our eternity.

Thinking humanity, thinking family: Gary Deddo on Karl Barth’s Theology of Relations

gary-deddoGary Deddo‘s doctoral thesis, published as Karl Barth’s Theology of Relations: Trinitarian, Christological, and Human: Towards an Ethic of the Family (New York: P. Lang, 1999), fills a too-much neglected vista of Barth studies – the ethical implications of Barth’s theology for the family. Insofar as Deddo attends to this, his study carries Barth scholarship in a constructive direction, not only for ‘theologians’, but for all who determine to think theologically on issues germane to family life and ministry to/with/for families. Moreover, his essay is in itself a cogent and profitable introduction to the broader, fruitful and creative landscape of Barth’s theological anthropology – that human personhood is determined by and for the Word of grace. According to Deddo, this means at least the following six things:

A) Humanity’s being has the form of relationship to God which indicates that humanity is to, from and with God as Jesus himself has this form of relationship with God and so constitutes the form of relationship with God through Him in which humankind participates.

i) Humanity’s being has the form of a being from God and so a being united to God, but does not be without God, nor is to be confused with God. Because Jesus is both like humankind and yet unlike humankind, persons in general are united with Jesus but are not identical with him.

ii) Humanity’s being is in the form of being differentiated yet determined for communion with God. Because our Brother’s life is in esse koinonia and intra-relatio with the Father and Spirit, humankind too – to which in the incarnation the Father, Son and Spirit have determined to be for – is made to participate in the intra-trinitarian life of communion with the Father through the Son in the Spirit.

iii) Humanity’s being-in-relationship is a being of ordered correspondence of humanity with God and so humanity’s being is an image of and witness to God. Jesus corresponds in his being to God in that he is God’s presence with humanity, embodying in flesh – i.e. from the side of creation – God’s relationship with all humanity. Jesus is the enactment of the will and kingdom of God among us. Human being involves acting in a way which corresponds to who we are graciously made to be – God’s relations, the imago of the Imago, the daughters and sons of the Father of Jesus.

matisse-danceB) Humanity’s being in relation with God has also been given its covenantal content (action) and is so constituted in both form and content as a being for God. Thus, Jesus is not merely the revelation of who God and humanity are, but Jesus is by virtue of that relationship that God and humanity know. He is the one Mediator between God and humanity. He is the ontological reality of the divine-human relationship. Human being is constituted and maintained only by participation in the action of relation that the Son knows with the Father in the Spirit. There is no such thing as autonomy – for God or humans.

iv) Humanity’s relationship with God is a covenantal and so personal relationship of being for God. The life of Jesus – the divinely-elected Son who freely responds to God’s calling in and through the history of his relationship with God – is a life of thanksgiving, obedience, invocation, and freedom for God. The life of Jesus is true human personhood, and revelatory – unveiling for us that God is personal, and that humankind is established in Jesus and corresponds to Jesus who is the imago Dei.

v) Humanity’s being in relationship to God is a dynamic and eschatological history in which humanity becomes what humanity is graciously determined to be – for God. Humanity’s covenantal relationship with God is not intrinsic to human personhood qua human personhood (indeed, there is no such thing), but is the gift of divine grace enfleshed in Jesus Christ in whom – and in whom alone – humanity comes to exist and to exist in relation to God, and to have a future in relation to God. Humanity’s being is in becoming in relation to God.

vi) Humanity’s being in relationship means humanity’s being for God – transcending, proceeding and giving of humanity’s self in perpetual return. So Jesus – the Man for God – is God’s own self-giving and outgoing to humankind that humankind might be included in, and mirror, the inner Triune relations. The relations of God and humanity as revealed in Jesus are not external but internal relationships in which each participates in the life of the other. God’s action in Christ takes place so that humankind might participate in the Triune life – life itself. Humanity is not alien to God’s being, but of its essence.

Turning more specifically to the question of the family, Deddo proposes a ‘six-fold grammar of Relations’:

i. The God whom we worship in Jesus Christ is the Triune God who exists in loving covenantal communion and who has created, reconciled and redeemed us for participation in that very communion of Father and Son in the Spirit. The parent-child relationship is one unique context in which this communion may be communicated and reflected. But families find their true place not in conformity to society in general, but in communion within the Church, a family of families.

ii. As human beings we have our personhood only as a gift of being in covenantal communion with God which calls for our personal participation. This life of fellowship is to be manifested in lives of worship as the Church of Jesus Christ. It is in this context that each one of us, no matter what our family experience, hears and is reminded of our true identity as children of God and finds the norm for being parents and children in right relationship.

iii. The Church is a covenant community and as such can be understood as the household of God with God as our Father and Jesus as our Brother. It is the original ‘Family’ by which all other families are to operichoresisrder themselves in correspondence and witness to it. This is the true source for the renewal and healing of broken family relationships.

iv. Being parents is the divine gift of personal and covenantal participation in that ontological relationship of parent and child. Parents are those who in faith by grace beget and parent their children in terms of both promise and fulfilment. This constitutes a witness to, a correspondence to, an image of, God’s creation of us in promise with a view to our fulfillment. God does this by bringing us up by the Spirit to maturity according to the image of Jesus Christ and through His incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, intercession and coming again.

v. Parents are those who order their domestic relations after the pattern of being members of the household of God, the Body of Christ, who acknowledge one Father and one Brother over them all. They see themselves as elder and younger brothers and sisters and all being the children of God, who belong together in a maturing communion with Him by the Spirit, thereby becoming conformed to Jesus Christ.

vi. They are those who, as individuals and as domestic families, are equipped and are sent out, who equip and send out their children to serve and extend their fellowship to others that they too might be included in this one family of God by that same Spirit.

Those already familiar with Ray Anderson’s work will find many echoes in Deddo’s, whose study I heartily comnmend.


Ratzinger on being human

In a fascinating discussion on praying for the dead, Ratzinger offers the following observation on what it means to be human being: ‘Yet the being of man is not, in fact, that of a closed monad. It is related to others by love or hate, and, in these ways, has its colonies within them. My own being is present in others as guilt or as grace. We are not just ourselves; or, more correctly, we are ourselves only as being in others, with others and through others. Whether others curse us or bless us, forgive us and turn our guilt into love – this is part of our own destiny. The fact that the saints will judge means that encounter with Christ is encounter with his whole body. I come face to face with my own guilt vis-à-vis the suffering members of the body as well as with the forgiving love which the body derives from Christ its Head … This intercession is the one truly fundamental element in their “judging.” Through their exercising of such judgment they belong, as people who both pray and save, to the doctrine of Purgatory and to the Christian practice which goes with it. As Charles Péguy so beautifully put it, “J’espère en toi pour moi”: “I hope in you for me.” It is when the “I” is at stake that the “you” is called upon in the form of hope’. – Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (ed. Aidan Nichols; trans. Michael Waldstein; Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1988), 232.

Rowan Williams on Christian Anthropology

Rowan Williams recently gave a lecture as part of the ‘A World to Believe in – Cambridge Consultations on Faith, Humanity and the Future’ sessions. It’s well worth reading the whole thing. Here’s a snippert:

‘Religious belief is not only belief about God, it’s belief about human beings. And what is non-negotiable in faith is not simply a set of doctrines about the transcendent, but a set of commitments about how human beings are to be seen and responded to. Not everybody in our society has an anthropology, a doctrine of human nature, not everybody has a set of such commitments and they probably never will. But it is a very impoverished society, and it is a very limited educational policy, that assumes you can do without the memory of such doctrines and commitments around. Christian anthropology, the Christian vision of what human beings are about, assumes a number of things about humanity which shape Christian responses to human existence. It assumes that human beings are summoned to respond to an initiative from God, that human beings are summoned to shape a life that will itself communicate something of God to others, and something of humanity itself to God. It assumes that humanity is called to question fictions about both the society and the human self in the name of some greater destiny or capacity in humanity than most political systems or philosophies allow. So, properly understood, Christian anthropology – the Christian doctrine of human nature – is one of those things which ought to reinforce in the university and in society more widely, a set of deep suspicions about the ways in which that range of human capacity is shrunk by political expediency and convenience’.

Full lecture here.

Aboriginal Religions in Australia

The upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion includes a review by Diane Bell (University of Adelaide) of the book Aboriginal Religions in Australia: An Anthology of Recent Writings, edited by Max Charlesworth, Francoise Dussart, and Howard Morphy (Ashgate, 2005).

Bell notes that the contributors to this volumes are ‘predominantly non-Indigenous anthropologists and well-established ones at that’. However, not a few new strands in the study of Aboriginal religion are unrepresented in the book. Bell states that she ‘would like to see more about the intertwining of new age beliefs and practices, eco-tourism, new religious movements, and the emergence of distinctive Aboriginal theologies—some of which have a strong social justice core and others of a decidedly evangelical nature’.

Bell identifies Fiona Magowan’s essay ‘Faith and Fear in Aboriginal Christianity’ (pp. 279–295) as ‘an excellent account of the Yolngu from Galiwin’ku in northeast Arnhem Land, and Ian McIntosh’s ‘Islam and Australia’s Aborigines’ (pp. 297–318), also on the Yolgnu, as ‘a fine example of how outside influences can be absorbed’, but she says we also need to hear from people in rural and urban settings. Bell, who lives in the Ngarrindjeri territory in the southeast of Australia, would have liked to see more teasing out of how Aboriginal religion practiced in the inner cities,’ in the more densely settled south’. ‘What role, for instance, do mainstream churches, evangelical, and fundamentalist religions play in the lives of disaffected youth?’

No anthology – by definition – can possibly traverse any given field fully. Bell criticises this anthology with being ‘too vast’. She concludes: ‘Choices must be made. In my view, the choices made regarding the“recent writings” for this anthology give priority to old concerns. There is much that is new and challenging for scholars of religion, much that is relevant as to how we live our lives in the twenty-first century. The potential audiences for writing on religion are wide ranging. This anthology was an opportunity to address readers beyond the academy. Instead the editors have stayed very much within the lines’.

You can read the whole review here.

Developing a Reading List – 3

Developing a Reading List – 3

So far I have listed books on (1) Theological Method and Prolegomena, (2) Systematics/Dogmatics (3) Biblical Theology, and (4) Theology Proper, (5) Patriology, (6) Christology, (7) Pneumatology and (8) Revelation. Below is a list of books that I’ve found helpful in thinking about Creation, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, Anthropology. Remember, this series of 5 posts is with a view to developing some sort of a reading list for various areas of systematic and pastoral theology, and that the kind of thing I have in mind is a reading list and resource for English-speaking undergraduate theology students. It is to this end that I am inviting your help.

Reading List: 9. Creation:

Colin E. Gunton, The Triune Creator

Colin E. Gunton, Christ and Creation

David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall

Jonathan Edwards, Concerning the End for Which God Created the World

Joseph Ratzinger, In the Beginning

Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation

Langdon Gilkey, Maker of Heaven and Earth

Reading List: 10. Soteriology:

Albrecht Ritschl, The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation: The Positive Development of the Doctrine

Anselm, Cur Deus Homo?

Athanasius, On the Incarnation

Colin E. Gunton, The Actuality of Atonement

David Peterson, Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness

Edward Schillebeeckx, Christ: The Experience of Jesus as Lord

Geoffrey C. Bingham, Christ’s Cross Over Man’s Abyss

Gustaf Aulén, Christus Victor

Hans Boersma, Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition

James Denney, The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation

James Denney, The Death of Christ

John McLeod Campbell, The Nature of the Atonement

John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ

John Webster, Holiness

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1

Kenneth Grayston, Dying, We Live: A New Enquiry into the Death of Christ in the New Testament

Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross

Michelle A. Gonzalez, Created in God’s Image: An Introduction to Feminist Theological Anthropology

Molly T. Marshall, What It Means to Be Human

Nigel M. de S. Cameron (ed.), Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell

Paul Fiddes, Past Event and Present Salvation: The Christian Idea of Atonement

Peter T. Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross

Peter T. Forsyth, The Work of Christ

Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, vol. 1: Human Nature

Stephen C. Barton (ed.), Holiness: Past and Present

Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ

Thomas Smail, Once and For All: A Confession of the Cross

Reading List: 11. Ecclesiology:

Colin E. Gunton (ed.), Trinity, Time, and Church: A Response to the Theology of Robert W. Jenson

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Donald G. Bloesch, The Church

Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Children of Promise

Hans Küng, The Church

John D. Zizioulas, Being As Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church

Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit

Donald G. Bloesch, The Church: Sacraments, Worship, Ministry Mission

Miroslav Volf, After Our Image: The Church as the Image of the Trinity

Peter Leithart, Against Christianity

Peter T. Forsyth, The Church and the Sacraments

Peter T. Forsyth, The Church, The Gospel and Society

Reading List: 12. Anthropology:

Alan Torrance, Persons in Communion: an Essay on Trinitarian Description and Human Participation

Christoph Schwobel & Colin Gunton (eds), Persons, Divine and Human

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

Harry R. Boer, An Ember Still Glowing: Humankind as the Image of God

Helmut Thielicke, Being Human … Becoming Human

John D. Zizioulas, Being As Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church

Pope John Paul II, The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan

Randall C. Zachman, The Assurance Of Faith: Conscience in the Theology Of Martin Luther and John Calvin

Ray S. Anderson, On Being Human: Essays in Theological Anthropology

Stanley Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self

Thomas Smail, Like Father, Like Son

Wolfhart Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective

Next on the list: Prayer and Meditation, Missiology, Ethics, and Doxology.