Theology Feed


One of the key takeaways from my reading of David Clough's On Animals relates to the concept of glory.  

This comes in a chapter in which he's discussing the end (goal/purpose/point) of creation, and specifically in a section devoted to Wolfhart Pannenberg's argument that the goal of creation is the creatures.  Clough then quotes the scholar Christoph Schwobel on the topic of glory--"Glory is not a self-directed attitude, but the mutuality of glorifying the other and receiving glory from the other."  For Schwobel this mutuality "constitutes the communion of the divine life."  

But one can clearly take that concept and develop it.  For example, couple it with Irenaeus--"The glory of God is a humanity fully alive"--or with the Reformed catechism--"The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy God forever."  

One can even then take the concept and apply it more broadly in our relationships with all humanity and all creation.  What if we developed an ethic of mutual glorifying?

Political Theology of the Earth

Political Theology of the Earth: Our Planetary Emergency and the Struggle for a New PublicPolitical Theology of the Earth: Our Planetary Emergency and the Struggle for a New Public by Catherine Keller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Keller writes "in a time of heightened political disarray and lowered planetary hope" wondering if we have time to solve our problems, including the climate crisis? She refuses to give up, ceding to the ideologues on the right with a nihilism or hopelessness on the left. She does believe we yet have time to create a new public who can face our issues. That in fact our moment of overlapping crises can be a kairos moment, when a new public emerges. And she thinks that theology has a key role to play, largely because theology was complicit in getting us into our problems. Traditional theological categories have continued to influence contemporary secular politics and economics, and so alternative theologies (long existing in the tradition) must speak up in order to undermine the continuing secular power of the damaging categories.

After reading Ignatieff's On Consolation, I thought it was important to gain some perspective on how we deal with the issues we are facing. And Keller writes so beautifully. One of the best prose stylists in theology (not a discipline known for writing style).

I'm not sure I come away with any radically new ideas or energy. For one the theological position she advocates (Process based) has been mine for almost thirty years. Also, the book was published in 2018 and it's even more difficult after the crises of the ensuing years to muster hope that this is a kairos moment (though people taking to the streets in the summer of 2020 sure felt that way and I believe planted seeds that will have lingering affects in our body politic). Instead one wonders if we aren't headed for the Dark Years predicted by Richard Rorty? And if so if we've then lost the struggle to avoid the worst effects of climate change?

But, even if we have and even if we are headed to an ever darker period, the sort of vision and conviction that Keller evidences will be the sorts of lights we'll need to guide us through.

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Rosemary Radford Ruether Quotes

Sexism and god talk

With the death this weekend of Rosemary Radford Ruether, I pulled my copy of Sexism and God-Talk off of the shelf to review.  Here are some choice quotes:

We have not choice but to go forward into a global community and shape a sustainable world together, if the human project is not to choke on its own toxic waste and bury itself by its own destructiveness.

The expansion of the Biblical message to include the unincluded rests on the assumption that the point of reference for Biblical faith is not past texts, with their sociological limitations, but rather the liberated future.

The liberating encounter with God/ess is always an encounter with our authentic selves resurrected from underneath the alienated self.  It is not experienced against, but in and through relationships, healing our broken relations with our bodies, with other people, with nature.

To encapsulate Jesus himself as God's "last word" and "once-for-all" disclosure of God, located in a remote past and institutionalized in a cast of Christian teachers, is to repudiate the spirit of Jesus and to recapitulate the position against which he himself protests.

Redemptive humanity goes ahead of us, calling us to yet incompleted dimensions of human liberation.

Those who are afraid of anger and alienation always have a tendency to hurry women on to another stage where they become 'reasonable' and 'gain perspective.'  But one cannot do that with integrity until one has genuinely faced up to sexism as a massive historical system of victimization of women and allowed oneself to enter into one's anger and alienation.  To skip over this experience is to become "reconciling" in a way that is basically timid and accommodating and not really an expression of personal freedom.

The Congregation in a Secular Age: Keeping Sacred Time against the Speed of Modern Life

The Congregation in a Secular Age: Keeping Sacred Time Against the Speed of Modern LifeThe Congregation in a Secular Age: Keeping Sacred Time Against the Speed of Modern Life by Andrew Root
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Last week, and much of it while I was in a monastery on retreat experiencing the rhythms of prayer in monastic time, I was coincidentally/serendipitously reading this book. Root identifies the core problem facing contemporary churches and church people to be time related. This resonated with me. I've long enjoyed exploring the topic of time (you can find a number of my sermons that approach this theme). And how often in the pandemic years have we heard people focus on losing a sense of time?

Root writes, "We long to find a true fullness that draws us not through time, into some future time, but more deeply into time itself. We long to live so deeply in time that we hear and feel the calling of eternity. We yearn to find once again the infinite in time, to find the sacred in the present, and therefore to be truly alive!"


The opening chapter on depression is so excellent. He writes that most depression in the 21st century is actually related to time--that we can't keep up the pace of living our best lives. I've copied this chapter to share with someone I thought needed to read it.

This is the sort of book that had me really thinking of how to apply it to my personal life and how to engage its themes as a pastor for my congregation. I think there will be a future worship series formatted around it. Also, at least four books that he references I plan to read, so it will likely lead to intellectual fertility.

My only criticism was that Root summarizes his points so many times that in some places it becomes very repetitive to the point of tiresome. So it could have used some editing. But that overall does not diminish the book too much.

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The Love that Is God

The Love That Is God: An Invitation to Christian FaithThe Love That Is God: An Invitation to Christian Faith by Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An eloquent and literary reflection on key elements of the Christian faith, primarily focused on love. Here is an example, "To love our enemies is to renounce the idea that we have it in our power to make history turn out right, to end all suffering, to banish all evil. To love our enemies is, in the end, to disarm ourselves of any weapons except the cross and the Spirit's gifts of faith, hope, and love."

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Galilean Journey

Galilean Journey: The Mexican-American PromiseGalilean Journey: The Mexican-American Promise by Virgilio Elizondo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Fiesta is the mystical celebration of a complex identity, the mystical affirmation that life is a gift and is worth living."

In this powerful and innovative theology, Elizondo draws connections between the Mestizo experience of Mexican-Americans (being neither and both and something third) and Jesus being a Galileean. For him, Christianity creates the opportunity for a new humanity. The poor and the marginalized will lead us is into this new reality. And it will be universal and cosmopolitan, mixing together and drawing elements from various cultures, all in a spirit of celebration.

I found this liberation theology to speak powerfully to our present moment, despite it being forty years old. Its reflections on identity and culture could help to guide us in our present moment when those categories are dominating so much discourse and action.

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Jesus in Asia

Jesus in AsiaJesus in Asia by R.S. Sugirtharajah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The Asian quest for Jesus did not see him as a unique person, but perceived him as one who was engaged in work similar to that of the Asian seers, and welcomed him and such teachers 'as God's revelation in history.'"

Sugirtharajah writes about a number of Asian Jesus scholars whose contributions have been overlooked by the Western theological academy. Some of these Asian scholars were Christians, but some of them were Hindo, Jain, or Buddhist and were writing about Jesus from those religious perspectives.

Much of the material was completely new to me. I was very fascinated by the chapter on Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan's work on Jesus from a Hindu perspective. Sugirtharajah writes that for Radhakrishnan "what was attractive about Jesus . . . was his ability to awaken an awareness of the divine in oneself." Radhakrishnan saw Jesus in the tradition of the Upanishads.

I learned the most from the chapter on the Korean theologian Ahn Byung Mu. Ahn argued that to understand Jesus you had to understand who he kept company with and the status of those people in their society. Here's an example of Ahn's ideas as discussed by Sugirtharajah:

"What counted most were the lifestyle choices Jesus had made, such as forgoing all material possessions and securities of life, cutting himself off from family attachments, and more crucially, overturning the value system so that those who exalted themselves were humbled, and the humble were exalted."

One common theme among all these Asian scholars is emphasizing that Jesus was Asian and should be interpreted in the broader context of Asian religious culture rather than the Hellenistic and Roman interpretations because Jesus rejected and seemed to have so little in common with those cultures.

In the conclusion Sugirtharajah uses these scholars as a means of criticizing the search for an historical Jesus and identifying how even Western academic approaches are emotional, imaginative constructs--"The so-called historical Jesus is invariably an idealized picture drawn from the interpreter's fancy and from fads."

But what we learn from these Asian scholars is that maybe we shouldn't center our faith on the history of one individual person. Rather, shouldn't we focus on the values Jesus taught and the kind of life he modeled as a way of awakening spirituality within humanity?

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