There are just two theological tasks. One is to say what Christian doctrine is, and the other is to offer it to the world. The second depends on the first. First, Christian doctrine must be done for its own sake, just as we worship God just for the sake of it, for joy. We wonder at the creation of God and we express that wonder, despite ourselves. Doctrine is likewise doxological.
Colin Gunton was a student of the Christian doctrine of God. It is true that he was at centre of a revival of trinitarian theology and rediscovery of the Holy Spirit. But trinitarian theology is simply Christian theology, and theology is Christian when it understands that God may be known, only, as Father, and he may be known in this way only by the Son, and those the Holy Spirit includes in the Son. Any other account is the theology of another religion. Colin Gunton was never taken in by the belief that something more sophisticated than doctrine is just around the corner. He remained intrigued and delighted by that whole vast package, and only as we are so too will we have anything to contribute, to the church, to the university and to the world. The first responsibility of the Christian is to learn their own tradition, and the second is to tell the waiting world what they find there. Only if we know our own tradition, do we have something to say.
Continue reading “Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Colin Gunton and the doctrine of God”
Oliver O’Donovan is one of the most exciting theologians in the UK. He writes on current issues, like bioethics, just war, sexuality and the church. But his great strength, and the source of his evangelical authority, is his ability to show us how Christians in different periods of history have dealt with the very same problems that face us now. He is able to summarise the hard-won experience of Christians of different centuries, so we can see the intellectual resources available to us. He has just published a series of seven ‘Sermons on the issues of the day’ on Fulcrum. They are master-classes in Christian discernment. Sexuality and the unity of the church are the issues of the day, and the whole package of Christian wisdom will enable us to tackle these issues together and grow in truth and love as we do so.
Continue reading “No lack of love – the Fulcrum sermons of Oliver O’Donovan”
John Webster calls for a scriptural hermeneutic and doctrine of episcopacy subordinate to the doctrine of God. In an article on scripture he argues that the God who addresses the world does not lose control of that address to the Church: God’s word remains with him so Scripture must be referred to God, not understood on any independent epistemological basis such as the authority of reading communities. In an article on episcopacy he argues that God does not abdicate his authority (episcope) to the Church. I am going to ask whether we can combine these issues to come up with a single statement about the action of God that witnesses to the possibility of an obedient action for man graciously extended to him by God.
Continue reading “John Webster on Scripture authority and action”
Two views of modernity
The political theology of Oliver O’Donovan and the political philosophy of Leo Strauss
In the last couple of papers I read to you I tried to suggest that theology is a mode of political hermeneutics. By that I mean that it is a practice of interrupting the simple statements the world makes about itself and by which the world always seems to want to close itself down, and of providing complex statements that keep the world open. Theology is a work of epiclesis, that is intercession or advocacy, of calling on the Holy Spirit to give the world more time. Today we will see Oliver O’Donovan argue that theology is a mode of politics and Christianity the best mode of politics because the God of Jesus Christ is our ruler and we may flourish under his rule. O’Donovan is replying to that modern political theology which believes that the church has wrongly tried to exercise a secular power, that it was captive to Christendom or Constantinianism, and that Christians must not make any such claim to exercise power. I shall be arguing that Christians are rulers: they participate in the rule of the one ruler. In The Desire of the Nations O’Donovan gives a historical sketch of the political framework as preparation of an ethics that is to follow. I will be trying to anticipate this ethics and present politics and ethics together. I will in other words make the assumption that political talk is indivisible from ethics talk, and ethics talk from political talk. In fact I shall make a still bigger assumption that was once a commonplace of platonic philosophy – that politics (the polis) and ethics (the man) and psychology (talk of our soul, emotions and religious inclinations) and cosmology and theology are all in service of one another. Christianity ironically has taken up some of the resources of thought about exercising rule which, inasmuch as we think of it now at all, we think of as the political philosophy of Plato or classical republicanism. For this tradition the ruler does much more than rule: he is a model and a teacher, and the law is a resource of positive description of what is good. I will present politics and ethics together not only to indicate how there is more to be said about the political framework even than O’Donovan managed to cram into The Desire of the Nations. I will keep referring this political theology back to the doctrine of God – to straight theology – to dissuade you from thinking that political theology is just a sub-section of theology proper – or the temptation of every seminar except this, that theology is just the theory that must occasionally be sat through before we can translate it into ‘practice’ and ‘what it means for us today’.
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It is an open secret that John Zizioulas, representative of Greek Orthodoxy on the international ecumenical scene, is himself one of the theological giants. He has not published much more than Being in Communion, and what there is, is almost gnomic and appears to be largely about inner-Churchly concerns. There is a growing number of people who have looked to him for a distinctive statement on personhood, but with it has grown the number who have read him in a hurry and missed the extent and distinctiveness of his thought.
Continue reading “John D. Zizioulas on the eschatology of the Person”
Robert Jenson is a pioneer of the strong ecclesiology. He has put Israel in her proper place as the object of the election of God and established the trinity as the tool that keeps theology Christian. He is a champion of talk of temporality and exploring the notion that God has time for us. This has involved him in demythologising the modern notion that time is single, world-wide and culture-independent, and that time is forward, in a direction given by an orientation and cosmology never made explicit. Though the edge may be off the optimism, and we are now too sophisticated to use the word, the idea of progress is as constitutive of us now as it ever was. Time is not a concept that the West has amongst others, but rather the West is nothing more than the idea of time, is constituted by the set of mental-corporal bad habits that can conveniently be given this name.
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The doctrine of the Trinity is the means to talk about the world of action for God and man together that God has opened for us in Jesus Christ. Gunton champions the atonement as the medium of that enlightening which is brought by the revealing of Jesus Christ. He has laid out the central idioms of the atonement – divine justice, the victory of Christ, and sacrifice, and used the conceptuality of metaphor to do so.
Continue reading “Colin E. Gunton and the concept of mediation”