Wednesday, 28 February 2007
I have been meaning to mention Marilynne Robinson's astonishing novel for a while now. I finished reading it in December with that sense of loss that the completion of some books provokes in me (the last was, like Gilead, a Pulitzer prize winning novel, Michael Cunningham's The Hours.)
Of course, Gilead connected with me because the central figure is a dissenting minister. John Ames belongs to a bygone age, but his sense of calling, vocation and duty are timeless and his vision of what ministry can be, both poignant and compelling. Here is Ames, reflecting on his sleepless nights:
'In the old days I could walk down every single street, past every house, in about an hour. I'd try to remember the people who lived in each one, and whatever I knew about them, which was often quite a lot. . . . And I'd pray for them. And I'd imagine peace they didn't expect and couldn't account for descending on their illness or their quarreling or their dreams. Then I'd go into the church and pray some more and wait for daylight. I've often been sorry to see a night end, even while I have loved seeing the dawn come.' (p.81)
But more than this, it is Ames' perception of the beauty in the world; a beauty that is not merely the breaking in of divine light from heaven, but which is utterly inherent in the world in all its worldliness. Here is just one, exquisitely beautiful, quotation:
'I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know all this is mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can't believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition or mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity, this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don't imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.' (p.65)
The other thing Ames does when he can't sleep is read Barth, and it shows:
'When this old sanctuary is full of silence and prayer, every book Karl Barth ever will write would not be a feather in the scales against it from the point of view of profundity, and I would not believe in Barth's own authenticity if I did not believe he would know and recognize the truth of that, and honor it, too.' (p.197)
I am not sure if I can think of a more authentic Christian voice in recent literature than that of the Revd John Ames.
Wednesday, 28 June 2006
I have a paperback copy of Bonhoeffer's Discipleship that I am prepared to give away to anyone who can (a) pay postage and packing or pick it up at some stage (e.g. when visiting Manchester or at the British NT Conference in September) (b) give me a good reason why they want it for their own Library, via the comments to this post.
It isn't an old, beaten up version of the SCM edition, but a pristine copy of the new, definitive Fortress DBW edition, Volume 4 with all of the scholarly apparatus and additional information that characterises that edition.
You have a week to bid.
I am pleased to say that the book will go to my good friend Catriona who will be reading it while drinking her Skinny Fairtrade Latte.
Monday, 22 May 2006
For those who haven't yet heard the story, you need to know that Chris Tilling is the jammiest sod of a NT scholar cum theologian alive. The reason? Well, its not everyday that a full and gratis set of Barth's Dogmatics land in your lap, but Chris has had this blessing, from the hand of Jim West.
I have long wanted to own a full set of CD, but was determined not to pay for it if at all possible. Up until now I have managed to collecct all 4 parts of IV in this way (i.e. from dead minister's libraries) but last week was simply forced to face facts and paid a reasonable sum of money for Ii and Iii (I wanted particularly to work with chapter III on the Authority of Scripture). So, only II and III to go then. I think I will wait a while before parting with any dosh again - just in case I get lucky.
For anyone who wonders why the concern with Barth, well I would just refer you to Ben Myers wonderful Ode to the Church Dogmatics.
Thursday, 13 April 2006
OK, its Maundy Thursday and so too late - but for what it is worth I thought I would let on about the book that has been accompanying me through Holy Week and will still be there into next week as well. It is a book of sermons by Fleming Rutledge (who sounds like a character from a Fast Show sketch), an Episcopalian priest who now has a USA wide preaching ministry and who I had never come across before the other week when I picked up her book from a College book stand (Katherine having nicked my copy of Miroslav Volf's Free of Charge for her own reading). The book is called, The Undoing of Death. The sermons are excellent and take you day by day from Palm Sunday through to Low Sunday. Fleming has a real eye for the connections between biblical themes and theology and contemporary issues, some wonderful turns of phrase, and a commitment to a theology of the cross that suffuses all her preaching. There are also lots of wonderful quotations from John Donne (including the book's title) and relevant pictures reproduced with explanatory comments (Piero della Francesca's Resurrection is still the best of the bunch; what is more it is the first Eerdmans book I have ever seen that gives you 360 pages for £9.99.
Favourite line: on Good Friday, the liturgy is not enough. Preaching is necessary because "the cross is not a self-interpreting event".
Monday, 27 February 2006
For my summary of chapter 1 see here.
Chapter 2: Sacramentality and the Doctrine of Creation
As well as a doctrine of God, a true understanding of sacramentality and the sacraments needs a dynamic and Trinitarian account of God's relatedness to that which is not God i.e. creation. This account must avoid the opposite dangers of deism (in which creation is currently devoid of the divine presence) and panentheism (in which creation is divinised and thus ceases to be creation at all). Instead, and picking up the themes of chapter 1, we need a Trinitarian account which recognises that created reality and the perception of that reality are mediated (Irenaus and Jonathan Edwards are the conversation partners). Such an account will: 1. Affirm the potential for created reality to mediate the immediate presence of God (and thus to be properly sacramental) but not imply that such mediation is always and everywhere present and 2. Insist that it is God's promise that is constitutive of such sacramentality and not our ability to perceive. The sacramental is, with Luther and Calvin, res promissa.
"That which constitues any single particular as a sign of God's presence and action is not our ability to discern (or to believe) that presence and action but rather God's promise that such a single particular will be such a sign without prejudice to our ability to discern that presence and action. A sacrament is the promise of presence and action whether that presence and action are discerned or not." (p.58)
Thursday, 23 February 2006
In the light of my earlier paean of praise for John Colwell's new book, Promise and Presence: An Exploration of Sacramental Theology, I am planning to offer my own chapter by chapter summary of the books central arguments and ideas. Each chapter will receive a brief summary and a sample quotation.
Chapter 1: Sacramentality and the Doctrine of God
An understanding of sacraments must derive from a truly theological understanding of God as Trinity. This requires attention to two key ideas: 1. With Barth we must preserve the notion that God is both the one who reveals himself as Lord (and thus utterly and necessarily God and entirely undependent upon the world) and the one who loves in freedom (and thus utterly gracious in his love for that which is other than himself). This is the only basis on which to truly understand the notion of sacraments as a "means of grace" (Thomas and Calvin). 2. Contra Barth (and Augustine before him) we must resist any attempt to relegate the role of the Spirit within the trinitarian life of God (through de-personalization). The Spirit is the personal mediator of the love of the Father and Son and thus God must be said to mediate his love in freedom. This mediated immediate is central to a true understanding of the sacraments.
"That which is mediated sacramentally is the presence and action of this one who loves in freedom; it is gratuitous; it is grace. It is not a 'something' at our disposal; it is not a 'something' we can manipulate - such notions do not merely misunderstand sacramentality, they misunderstand and offend a doctrine of God. It is God's presence and action that is communicated sacramentally and God cannot be manipulated; he is never at our disposal; he is not capricious, but neither is he subject to necessity; a sacrament may be the means of his presence, but it is never his prison; he is freely and graciously here, but he is not confined or controllable here or anywhere else." (p.29)
Incidentally, to me at least, the rhetoric of John's writing speaks openly of the fact that he is a preacher first and foremost - none the worse for that though.
Saturday, 07 January 2006
A couple of new titles to arrive on my desk that may be of interest to some others.
I think that Schnelle's NT Introduction is one of the best around, and this new book on Paul looks like an excellent volume combining history and theology in a winning combination. Lots of documentation and detail (he is German after all) this will be going onto the readiing list for my Romans/Pauline theology course. Dunn will probably still be first choice for many, but for me this would probably come in a close second.
Not quite the definitive work on Philippians (still in preparation), but it is good to see this volume launching Eerdman's new series of theological commentaries. I have only dipped in to this, but Fowl rightly identifies the significance of friendship language in the letter (although does not draw out the full implications of this for exegesis) and has a wonderful closing chapter outlining a theology of friendship on the basis of his reading of the letter. Fowl's earlier work on Philippians Story of Christ in the Ethics of Paul) and on theological hermeneutics (Engaging Scripture) here combined in one volume.
Best to give the Amazon blurb for this one, but I am especially interested in his use of the category of covenant in relation to canon and how this might relate my attempt to describe the nature of a covenantal hermeneutic.
At the heart of Christianity lies a series of vividly striking events that together make up the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel - God's self-giving in Jesus Christ for humanity - is intrinsically dramatic, a matter of speech acts and deed words. Why is it, then, that Christian doctrine so often appears strikingly dull by way of contrast? And what happens to doctrine when those inside the church and without become suspicious of claims to know like God, or of truth claims in general? "The Drama of Doctrine" argues that there is no more urgent task in the church than to reflect on and engage in living truthfully with others before God. Doctrine serves the church as an aid to truthful living, and is a vital aspect of the church's public witness in and to the world. Several recent proposals, post liberal and Radical Orthodox among others, advocate a cultural-linguistic turn, reconceiving theology in terms of church practices, and in the process making ecclesiology into a virtual first theology. At the same time, other theologians have stressed the importance of performing the Scriptures. Combining these two emphases - theology as church practice and interpretation as performance - Vanhoozer sets forth a dramatic conception of the nature of doctrine and of the task of theology alike. In so doing, he mediates those, like Balthasar, who speak of theodrama but fail to discuss performance interpretation and those, like Ricoeur, who treat performance interpretation but typically do not mention theodrama. Doctrine is the suspension bridge between the gospel as the drama and theology as gospel performance. The drama of doctrine thus refers to the communicative action of the triune God as well as to the dialogue, in the canon and about it, about how best to respond to the divine initiative. The drama of doctrine, and of the Christian life itself, concerns how best to follow the way (to the Father), truth (through the Son), and life (in the Spirit) embodied in Jesus. Yet how do we know, Vanhoozer asks, that we are following the same gospel when we perform the Scriptures in contexts far removed from the original? Theologians have been quick to appropriate the philosophical insight that use determines linguistic meaning. But whose use, or performance, of the gospel counts, and why? While welcoming the post liberal emphasis on church practices, Vanhoozer nevertheless sets out to reclaim the canon as source and norm, the raconteur and provocateur, of the church's communicative praxis, that is, its corporate witness and identity. Doctrine gives direction for one's fitting participation in the drama of redemption, direction for the rehearsals that comprise the church's life this side of the eschaton. Hence doctrine provides guidance for non-identical repetitions of faithful responses that are sensitive to the role of context and social location while at the same time insistent on the authority of the canonical script. Taking his cue from those who locate criteria of Christian identity in Spirit-led church practices, Vanhoozer suggests that the cultivation of such practices, while an appropriate ecclesial aim, is inadequate as a doctrinal norm. Instead, he locates the norm for Christian doctrine in the diverse canonical practices that keep contemporary practice both prophetic and apostolic, just and true. Vanhoozer construes the literary forms of Scripture (genres) as large-scale uses of language (social action) with irreducible cognitive capacities that generate further communicative acts, habits of thinking, and forms of life. The central chapters of the book develop a canonical-linguistic approach to theology that is post liberal in its focus on communal practice but post-conservative with its emphasis on following the canonical script. Vanhoozer deals with theology both as a scientia that is postpropositional, postfoundational, and plural and as a sapientia that is phronetic, prosaic, and prophetic. He fleshes out these programmatic suggestions by taking the doctrine of atonement as an extended example. The overall aim is to explain how the church comes to share the mind of Christ, despite the difference of centuries, cultures, and conceptual schemes, thanks to the dramatic interplay of Word and Spirit. Vanhoozer describes the canonical-linguistic approach in terms of four marks. It is evangelical in its understanding of the dramatic action at the heart of the Bible's authoritative witness, orthodox in its thinking about the divine dramatis personae, catholic in its attention to various voices in Scripture and in the traditions of its interpretation, yet protestant in its use of Scripture as a critical principle for discriminating between forms of ecclesial performance. The net result is a non-reductive or expansive orthodoxy that attends to the dialogue inside the canon and about it for the sake of the integrity of our contemporary renderings of the drama of redemption. Turning to the role of doctrine in the life of the believing community, Vanhoozer claims that the Christian's vocation is to discern and to play one's role in the drama of redemption with creative fidelity. The book concludes with a plea for amateur theology in which all members of the church take part together in a vital theatre that stages scenes from the kingdom of God for the sake of a watching world.
If you have any Christmas book tokens!!