Theology Feed

The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art

The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive ArtThe Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art by Luke Timothy Johnson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Johnson begins the book:

Two simple convictions animate this exercise in theology. The first is that the human body is the preeminent arena for God's revelation in the world, the medium through which God's Holy Spirit is most clearly expressed. God's self-disclosure in the world is thus continuous and constant. The second conviction is that the task of theology is the discernment of God's self-disclosure in the world through the medium of the body. Therefore, theology is necessarily an inductive art rather than a deductive science.

With that promising beginning and enticing first chapter the book fails to live up to expectations. It is a thoroughgoing phenomenology of bodily experience, but with little developed theological reflection, in my opinion. For instance, James McClendon places the body first in his theology to much richer effect.

I did appreciate Johnson, a Catholic theologian, entering into a robust discussion of sexuality and gender with a valuable discussion of intersex bodies and what their reality suggests for theology. Again, this is material I've encountered before in queer thinkers, but was refreshing to discover here in Roman Catholic theology.

One of the book's primary aims seems to be a criticism of John Paul II's writing on the body and sexuality. Had I known that the book had that more limited focus, I probably wouldn't have read it.

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Hauerwas's letter to college freshmen

This delicious paragraph:

Books, moreover, are often the way in which our friendships with our fellow students and teachers begin and in which these friendships become cemented. I’m not a big fan of Francis Schaeffer, but he can be a point of contact—something to agree with or argue about. The same is true for all writers who tackle big questions. Read Plato, Aristotle, Hume, and John Stuart Mill, and not just because you might learn something. Read them because doing so will provide a sharpness and depth to your conversations. To a great extent, becoming an educated person means adding lots of layers to your relationships. Sure, going to the big football game or having a beer (legally) with your buddies should be fun on its own terms, but it’s also a reality ripe for analysis, discussion, and conversation. If you read Mary Douglas or Claude Levi-Strauss, you’ll have something to say about the rituals of American sports. And if you read Jane Austen or T. S. Eliot, you’ll find you see conversations with friends, particularly while sharing a meal, in new ways. And, of course, you cannot read enough Trollope. Think of books as the fine threads of a spider’s web. They link and connect.

occurs in an enjoyable essay theologian Stanley Hauerwas wrote for college freshmen in 2010.


A New Gospel for Women

A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian FeminismA New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism by Kristin Kolbes Dumez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A revelation that Katharine Bushnell, an evangelical feminist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century developed a complete theological reconstruction and new interpretation of the Bible that anticipated developments of the 1970's sometimes as often as 80 years before. Dumez is trying to recover this forgotten figure and use her as a resource to help 21st century Christian women in the global church to draw simultaneously upon Christian faith from an evangelical hermeneutic and the feminist reconstruction of the faith.

This is a clearly written, well researched book, about a fascinating figure and an entire movement in American political and religious life of which I knew very little.

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McLaren in Charlottesville

Theologian Brian McLaren was present in Charlottesville on Saturday and he has written his observation, reflections, and thoughts going forward, including the urgent practical work we must do.

Here is an excerpt:

We Christians, in particular, need to face the degree to which white Christianity has failed – grievously, tragically, unarguably failed – to teach its white adherents to love their non-white neighbors as themselves. Congregations of all denominations need to make this an urgent priority – to acknowledge the degree to which white American Christianity has been a chaplaincy to white supremacy for centuries, and in that way, has betrayed the gospel.


Robert Jeffress's Bad Theology

So how can we bring a halt to this march toward war? The answer lies in theology and ethics as much as it does in politics and strategy. Secular and religious people alike must be aware that moral arguments — whether or not they involve religious tropes — are not just political sideshows but rather can determine the outcomes of the most important policy decisions of this or any time.

There is such a thing as incorrect theological and moral thinking, and the best way to neutralize it is with an intellectually and morally superior argument on the same terrain. Only good theology can debunk bad theology. We must all engage in this work as if the future of this republic and its place in the peaceful order of the world depend on it — because they do.

This essay in the NYTimes criticizes the bad theology of Robert Jeffress who is trying to give religious cover to the President in his vitriolic threats of nuclear war.


Death of God & Mainline Protestantism

An interesting essay on how Death of God theology from the 1960's was more influential than most people have realized and that much of what it predicted has come true.  This rich essay concludes:

Are the Church and her historical teachings therefore necessary? Only so long as the wider culture has not yet adopted its message of tolerance, pluralism, and individual freedom. Once it does, the Christian mission is complete, and secular society itself becomes the kingdom of God.

In this we see the larger ambition of Death of God theology—and its enduring relevance. The Gospel forms a community that, following the biblical injunction to die in order to live, extinguishes itself so as to spread its message into the secular world. And has not exactly that come to pass? The central fact of American religion today is that liberal Protestantism is dead and everywhere triumphant. Its churches are empty, but its causes have won. In 1995, the sociologist N. J. Demerath observed that mainline Protestantism has a paradoxical status in American life. It has experienced both “institutional defeat” and “cultural victory.” Mainline Protestantism has succeeded in communicating its progressive moral and political values to the surrounding culture. On virtually every issue that consumed its postwar energies—from civil rights to feminism and gay rights—the mainline churches have been vindicated by elite opinion. At the same time, their membership has evaporated. The institution that once brokered the postwar cultural and moral consensus for America has now almost vanished.

Peter Berger, who argued against Death of God theology, died recently.  Here is his NYTimes obituary.


The Power and Vulnerability of Love

The Power and Vulnerability of Love: A Theological AnthropologyThe Power and Vulnerability of Love: A Theological Anthropology by Elizabeth O'Donnell Gandolfo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gandolfo argues that vulnerability is not only a basic human trait, it is the source of anxiety that leads
to suffering and causes suffering in others. After an analysis based upon maternal experience, she discusses Christian theological and spiritual responding to vulnerability and then practices of dealing with vulnerability.

While I felt the first section was overly long and often redundant, sections two and three were quite good, in particular her discussion of incarnation and the natal experience of Jesus.

She also brilliantly draws from a great diversity of thinkers--Paul Tillich & Delores Williams, Alfred North Whitehead and Martha Nussbaum, Nicholas of Cusa and David Hume, Julian of Norwich and Edward Schillebeeckx, etc.

I also greatly appreciated her discussion of privilege as our attempt to control our vulnerability. This section will be quite useful to ministers because she gives a theological description. Remember just this week my denomination passed a resolution calling for ministers to receive ongoing training in their privilege. Since I volunteered to help organize that for the Nebraska conference, I'll use her work as a means to approach the topic.

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