My rating: 2 of 5 stars
In college we read Wendy Farley's book Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion: A Contemporary Theodicy and it was transformative in my thinking. Every now and then I've Googled to see if Farley published anything else. I guess I hadn't done it in a few years, as she published something a few years go that I missed. This book received attention and review in The Christian Century, and I quickly ordered it.
I had trouble engaging in the opening chapters. The writing style was denser than her previous work. I found much of it to repeat things I've read already in various other works (something that is making it easier and easier to read many theology books, because I can skim quickly).
But I also wasn't completely engaged by her apophatic theology of the divine. She stands in a long, strong tradition of those who insist we do not know about God. I am not opposed to this tradition, but I didn't find her presentation engaging. Where I did, she was usually quoting Catherine Keller, whose book On the Mystery I recently read and loved. I couldn't agree with her contention that the Divine is unlike any other object in the universe; a key part of Process thought is that God is an actual entity like other actual entities and must also abide by cosmic metaphysical conditions and categories. I find this important and though I do embrace divinity as mystery, I can't follow the via negativa as far as she does.
Her chapter on the Ten Commandments was great, and I've blogged on that already. I will definitely be using her when I next preach on them. The chapters on Jesus don't present anything new, and I was bored by some of the chapters on contemplation.
She has helped me recover the role of wisdom in theology. God is, for her, primarily experienced as divine wisdom and the spiritual task is to cultivate that wisdom through spiritual practices such as contemplation. In this way we incarnate wisdom, following Jesus. When we do incarnate divine wisdom following Jesus, we will be more inclusive and welcoming of the outcast and the oppressed. She places particular emphasis on queer issues. That's a quick summary of the book, by the way.
Because of the emphasis on the apophatic tradition and God as divine wisdom cultivated through spiritual practice, there is great opportunity for interfaith connection in her work. She does not ignore the particularities of the Christian tradition, and she even embraces traditional doctrines of the the Trinity, incarnation, and resurrection, so one has a good example of how these orthodox doctrines can lead in radically different theological directions.
She does some interesting things in this book that I will continue to think about, and over time I may revise my opinion upward. We'll see if I return to the book often and how those ideas she presents develop for me.
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