The Cross as the Site of the Triumph of the Secular

Great article by Joseph of Inverted Kingdom

(https://bktheologian.wordpress.com/)

Historians trained in the reading of the genealogy of ideas via historical facticities will reckon that the current secular age we find ourselves in – an age where a religious paradigm and thought form is relegated to the periphery – is the outcome of the Enlightenment period, a time where western man began to fashion himself over against the motifs of a Judeo-Christian worldview. With the rise of modern science, new political structures, and a humanism divorced from traditions and established ideologies, the modern period ushered in an age of the “free man” – that individual no longer bound to ancient authority. God construed in theistic terms slowly began to collapse into a deistic God: distant, cold, detached, designer of all, uninvolved. This practical atheism that deism unintentionally produced morphed into a robust, out of the closet atheism, powerfully expressed, for instance, in the writings of Nietzsche and Sartre. And while modernism rests on the values and ethos of the Judeo-Christian worldview, an ethic hijack from the religious for the sake of the secular, it fails to substantiate such values ontologically since it does not and cannot hold on to a metaphysics that would at once overturn the modernistic moment. And so, as some have said, the advent of post-modernism is nothing more than a sick philosophy, inwardly rotten, self-festering because it is born out of a nihilistic world, cut off from any objective reality because, out of a nihilistic presupposition, there is no objective reality, no concrete coordinate system to judge or orient oneself, and so all has collapsed into the individual, the radically subjective.

This is of course something of a caricature. Nevertheless the truth (if I can use such a word) still stands: We in the west are swimming in the sea of the secular. But according to Christianity, unbeknownst to the whole world and by virtue of the great condescension of God, the world has already been stepped in the secular since the Advent of Christ. Ontologically speaking, religious thinking and all that usually comes with it was pushed passed the horizons of human consciousness with the enfleshment, the secularization of God!

Way before the Enlightenment period, the secular triumphed on the cross 2,000 years ago when God, marginalized, rejected and beat up, died. This gave birth to a new religious moment however: God as omnipotent is the weak human under political oppression, for the sake of the world. This is precisely the kind of religious thinking that is subversively secular through and through: A God of love is a God that is dead to political power, religious power, even visible power.

Is it possible that, through the coming-of-age secular world we find ourselves in, the God of love, the Father of Jesus, has, through His Spirit, brought the church closer to the truth of His nature revealed in the First Advent?

It seems to me that when the Christian experiences marginalization, disenfranchisement, even radical persecution – as it was during the early years of the church, she is truly “intimately sharing in the sufferings of Christ.” It is precisely here, in this cultural moment, when the church can move in the power of the Spirit, “knowing the power of his Resurrection.”

Parousia and the Glorification of the Cosmos

In my personal life as many will know I have a deep affinity for the eastern spiritual tradition of Christianity.

This article is written by a wonderful Priest of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

It deals with the subject of Eschatology in an almost systematic way. It brings in so many treasures of the tradition to really bring the discussion alive!

I would recommend that my readers (Who are mostly of the western tradition) to read Christ as referenced as “The Logos”. I think this adds another layer of depth to an already spirited piece.

Enjoy! And let me know in the comments what you think of our brothers from the Eastern Church 🙂

Eclectic Orthodoxy

“But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13).

When Christ returns in glory, all will be made new. The cosmos will be transfigured, transformed, transmuted, redeemed, renewed, sanctified, sophianized, glorified, deified. These are just words, of course. We have to use them in order to talk about the coming Kingdom of God, but the eschatological event of which they speak transcends our imagining. The consummation of cosmic history will be glorious. This is the hope that empowers and fills all gospel preaching.

As we have seen in this series, the primary characteristic of the parousia is glory. The risen Christ will appear in the glory of the Spirit who eternally rests upon him. The time of hiddenness is over. Glory comes into the world and all is glorified. “The glory that accompanies the parousia,” writes Sergius…

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The Parable of the Two Good Guys

*Below is an excellent modern day perspective on the “Parable of the Good Samaritan”.  With our divisions in Christianity, attitudes that create polemic environments, and complexity of narratives/interpretations we sometimes miss common sense and the whole spirit of the Gospel.  Hopefully this piece helps awaken you from within the rabbit hole.*

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A young man who knew his Bible, could cite chapter and verse, was sent by his pastor to question this new teacher in town, name of Jesus, to see if he was “sound”. “Jesus,” the lad was told to ask, “how do I get eternal life?”

“That looks like a Bible you’ve got there, young fella” Jesus said.

Waving the black book to which Jesus had pointed, the lad declared, “Yep, it’s the inspired and inerrant Word of God, infallible and perfect in every way.”

“Sorry?” Jesus said.

“It’s the inerrant Word of God,” the lad repeated.

“Let me see,” said Jesus.

The lad handed the Bible to Jesus, who took it, opened it, shook it, smelled it, then returned it to the youngster. “Who says it’s inerrant?” he asked.

“God says,” the youngster replied.

“Where does God say that?” asked Jesus.

“In the Bible,” the youngster replied.

“But that doesn’t answer the question,” Jesus said, “it begs the question. It’s circular reasoning to say that the Bible is inerrant because in the Bible God says that the Bible is inerrant. What you claim to be true you’re assuming rather than proving. Which is a logical fallacy, which is bad apologetics, which shames our faith.”

“You what?” said the lad, completely discombobulated. “Are you trying to trick me?”

“Of course not,” said Jesus. “It’s just that you’re brandishing that book like it’s an assault weapon rather than a surgeon’s scalpel, and I suspect that you read it rather unimaginatively, one-dimensionally, as if it were a cook book rather than a love story, and listen to it as if it were a collection of notes rather than a magnificent symphony. You search it for answers, but you don’t allow it to probe you with questions. You look for closure when you should pray for critique. God certainly speaks to us through the scriptures, but interpreting the Bible is rarely a simple matter, let alone an open-and-shut case. We should expect to be surprised and disturbed, to have our fixed views challenged – and our settled selves changed.”

But the young man had that impatient, I’m-not-listening-to-a-thing-you-say look on his face. “Just answer the question,” he demanded: “How do I get eternal life?”

“Ahem,” sighed Jesus (not “Amen”). “Let’s turn to the Bible then. What do you say it says?”

“It’s obvious,” replied the youngster (rather smugly, it must be said): “You must love the Lord with all your heart and soul, mind and strength, and you must love your neighbour as yourself. Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 6:5. End of.”

“Excellent. So all you need is love,” said Jesus, pretending to be impressed and persuaded. For he suspected that the lad had an agenda, that he would try to embarrass and expose Jesus as an unreliable teacher. And Jesus was right.

“Ah,” the lad said, “but who is this neighbour I must love?” Of course he knew the answer: according to Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the neighbour is my fellow believer. But rumour had it that Jesus was mixing with all sorts, pervs and quislings and folk of other faiths, so how would he answer the question?

But Jesus didn’t answer the question, or at least he didn’t give a straight answer. Instead he told a story. “One night a man was walking to town when he was attacked by some thugs. They beat him up, took his wallet and iPhone, then ran off, leaving him half-dead. A minister happened to be walking along the same road, but when he saw the man, he checked his watch and hurried past him. A priest followed a few minutes later (he and the minister had been at a conference on theological ethics). He also saw the man, left some change, but stepped around him. Then two strangers to the area, oddly dressed, came upon the man, and when they saw the state of him they were overwhelmed with pity and compassion. They held him in their arms, stopped the bleeding, called a cab, took him to a local public house, and stayed with him all night. The next morning, they gave the landlord £100. ‘Look after him,’ they said. ‘Call a chemist and get some bandages, Savlon, and Ibuprofen. We’ll be back in a few days and reimburse you for any extra expense.’ Now,” concluded Jesus, “who were the good guys?”

The youngster was nonplussed. “The ‘good guys’? What’s that got to do with getting eternal life?”

“I’ll get to that,” Jesus replied. “But first, answer my question.”

“Well, the minister and the priest – what denominations were they?”

“Who cares?” said Jesus.

“And were they born again?”

“Does it matter?” asked Jesus

“And those two other guys – are you sure they weren’t gay?”

“And if they were?” said Jesus.

“And why didn’t they call 999 for the cops and the paramedics?” the youngster continued his third degree. “Had they been drinking? Were they on drugs? They sound like foreigners. Were they migrants, even illegals?”

“What is this, a sketch from Life of Brian?” suggested Jesus.

“And the man who was mugged – where was he going, what was he doing? It all sounds very suspicious to me.”

“I …” began Jesus, quite flabbergasted.

“And …” interrupted the youngster.

“Look,” counter-interrupted Jesus, “Leviticus and Deuteronomy don’t have the last word on defining ‘neighbour’, and eternal life isn’t a matter of your church, theology, or religious experience, nor do you ‘get’ it, you live it, starting now, with simple human decency: being truthful and thoughtful, kind and generous, acting justly, practicing mercy – and not just to your own, to fellow citizens and co-religionists, but to anyone in need, especially strangers, whatever their ethnicity, faith, or sexuality. If they’re hurting, they’re your neighbour, and if you help them, you’re their neighbour. We are called to help even those who hate us, and one day you might find someone you hate helping you. Eternal life is another life, but it’s hidden in this life.”

“Well,” harrumphed the youngster, “I’ve heard enough. You’ve said nothing about getting saved. You’re clearly unsound.” But feeling sorry for Jesus, he added, “I’ll pray for you.” Then he handed Jesus a leaflet and started to walk away.

Suddenly, however, he stopped, as if struck by lightning. But the sky was blue, though a cottony cumulus cloud had just passed the sun, which winked, flashed, then glowed benignly, like a huge egg yolk, on the two people below. The young man turned around: “I’ll think about what you said.”
Jesus waved and picked up his fishing rod.

— Kim Fabricius

(Kim Fabricius is a man who settled on a farm in the south of England, where Love mugged him, hugged him, and finally bugged him into faith and ministry. He read theology at Mansfield College, Oxford (1979-81), and then became the pastor of Bethel United Reformed Church, Swansea and a chaplain at Swansea University (1982-2013).)

 

Angels

A poem enters into the world to expose the strangeness of language and the mystery of reality. Angels are the poems of scripture. They enter into a situation to expose the strangeness of God’s activity and the mystery of creation.

In the angels we see the limits of our knowledge. They are a startling reminder of the impossibility of human comprehension—a sign of the outer vistas of knowledge. We simply don’t know what to do with angels—which doesn’t matter so much I suppose, so long as they know what to do with us.

Angels are creatures who do not fit in the world. It is clear that their world is not our world.

The mistake we often make in our modern world is to go the easiest route and attempt to demythologize their presence.  This is the folly of the most limiting paradigm; Were all that is complex and or transcendent is brought down to be understood because its splendour challenges and demands more.

Angels witness in that they mirror the impossibility of the coming of God’s kingdom according to the usual patterns of historical causality.

New ways of speaking and thinking is how we approach the heavenly choir and how we are called to witness as well 😉

Inspired by Steve Wright*

Important To Remember

In a word, then, God is love. In the story of Jesus, God defines himself as an event of self-giving love. He defines himself as a life rich in relationships, full of movement and energy, a harmony of repetition in difference. God is not an isolated, motionless “being” – he is not a static unity, but a dynamic triunity. He is not a single voice, but a harmony; not a monologue, but a conversation; not a march, but a dance.

Not to divide Christ’s divinity and humanity, or to give the impression that he sometimes functions as God and sometimes as a human. Jesus Christ is divine and human in one person.

Not to divide redemption from creation, or to give the impression that Christ invades a world that is alien to him. Human beings were created after the pattern of the same eternal Image that has become incarnate in Jesus.

Not to divide Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, or to give the impression that he achieves salvation at just one moment of his career. The total life-journey of Jesus Christ – from his birth, to his ministry of teaching and healing, to his death and resurrection – is the saving event.

In a word, then, God is love. In the story of Jesus, God defines himself as an event of self-giving love. He defines himself as a life rich in relationships, full of movement and energy, a harmony of repetition in difference. God is not an isolated, motionless “being” – he is not a static unity, but a dynamic triunity. He is not a single voice, but a harmony; not a monologue, but a conversation; not a march, but a dance.

– Benjamin Myers

The Triune God

This post is heavily influenced by my favorite theologian which we all know at this point 😉

When talking about God it is important to draw out the content of what the Trinity and Gospel reveal to us.  It is important not to speak of simply a monotheistic God that would be the starting point of Deism.  For if one starts at that road one will by reason lose the very God that has reveled himself to us.

 The triune God and creation
  1. As the infinite Source of all things, God totally transcends the creation.
  2. Yet God’s otherness is not remote from creation. God’s being is also Word – infinitely self-communicating, infinitely accessible.
  3. And God’s being is Spirit – infinitely reaching out, infinitely gathering, infinitely opening creatures to God’s self-communication.
 Trinitarian monotheism
  1. The central vision of Christian monotheism is not hierarchy but self-communicating love.
  2. The “power” of God is not domination but God’s infinite capacity to achieve love’s purposes.
  3. The triune God revealed in the gospel is the one God of Israel. There is no difference between the “God of the Old Testament” and the “God of the New Testament”. The differences are of degrees of revelation, as well as the contexts in which revelation was received.
Trinitarian spirituality
  1. What a triune God wants from creatures is not primarily submission, obedience, or service, but loving participation.
  2. Christian spirituality is a spirituality of pilgrimage in love. It is about the journey of the human person into an ever fuller participation in love.
  3. Thus through the power of the Spirit, the world that God makes is a world of irreducible difference. This difference echoes the dynamic triunity of God’s own life: God himself is rich in relations, and irreducible differences constitute the unity and harmony of God’s own life as Father, Son and Spirit. Through the Spirit, creatures therefore echo God’s own richness of difference – so that the plurality of the created world forms a symphony of praise to the life of its creator.

 

Who is God?

I have spoken before of common language and thought in regards to “God”.

As Christians we need to be aware that this “shared space” is in some ways a Christian witness due to North America and Europe’s history yet in many other ways it is Anathema.

For instance let me ask the question “Can you talk about God without Jesus Christ?”

The answer may transcend “yes” and “no” categories.

We may have to stop thinking of God in a remote eternity and always remember him in history.  A God who is temporal, yet overcomes temporal contingencies.

“God’s being can thus be described as a kind of being-towards-resurrection; the resurrection of Jesus is the goal of God’s eternal self-determining action. In this historical (or better, this history-creating) event, God becomes what God eternally is – and this is just because God eternally is what he becomes in this event.”

-Adam Eitel/Benjamin Myers

“Is there a logos asarkos?” We may have to stop asking questions like this or at least have answers that always incorporate the Gospel witness.

For who would the logos asarkos be if not Jesus Christ?

“Anyone who really talks of the Trinity talks of the cross of Jesus, and does not speculate in heavenly riddles.”

—Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (London: SCM, 1974), p. 207.

So remember if you are speaking of God do not speak of him like you would in a remote philosophical discourse.  Speak of him as he is and has revealed himself.

The truth will set you free 🙂

 

 

God is Love

God is love: Varieties of love in Christian tradition by Benjamin Myers.

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” 
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The belief that “God is love” is at the heart of the Christian tradition. But when different Christian teachers talk about God’s love, they can have quite different things in mind. Without any claim to comprehensiveness, here’s a sketch of 12 types of love in the Christian tradition:

1. Pedagogical love: God loves us the way a wise educator loves his pupils (Clement of Alexandria, Origen) – our love for God is like an insatiable love of learning.

2. Maternal love: God loves us with the self-giving tenderness of a mother for her children (Augustine, Julian of Norwich) – our love for God is like a child’s affectionate dependence on the mother.

3. Paternal love: God loves us with the strong supervisory care of a father for his children (Tertullian, Calvin) – our love for God is like the reverential admiration and trust of a child with his father.

4. Courteous love: God loves us with courtly courtesy (George Herbert) – our love of God is like a sweet, mutually attentive conversation between host and guest.

5. Married love: God loves us with the courteous familiarity of a spouse (Julian of Norwich) – our love for God is like the free and intimate conversation between spouses (note that this is not a sexualised picture of marriage; it’s more Jane Austen than D. H. Lawrence).

6. Celibate love: God loves us infinitely, but with a certain restraint (Methodius, Macrina) – our love for God is like a chaste and never-consummated yearning.

7. Erotic love: God loves us with the warmth and eagerness of a lover (Pseudo-Dionysius) – our love for God is like an ecstasy that takes us out beyond ourselves into unspeakable union with another.

8. Aesthetic love: God loves us because we reflect something of God’s own infinite beauty (Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine) – our love for God is a bigger version of the love we feel whenever we see a beautiful thing.

9. Purifying love: God loves us in the manner of an artist who creates an artwork and then patiently removes the imperfections (Gregory of Nyssa, Isaac of Nineveh) – we might experience God’s love as a fire of torment (i.e. as hell), but it’s all for our good.

10. Authoritative love: God loves us the way a wise and charismatic ruler loves the people (Tertullian, Athanasius) – we love God with something like the intense loyalty and admiration that the Macedonian soldiers felt towards Alexander the Great.

11. Brotherly love: God loves us as an older brother loves his siblings (Desert Fathers & Mothers) – our love for God is free, familiar, and confident.

12. Friendly love: God’s love is a firm and loyal commitment to friendship for its own sake (Karl Barth) – our love for God is like reciprocating the loyalty of a friend.

Note: I don’t mean that these are entirely separate things. They’re differences in emphasis, not mutually incompatible ideas. The names beside each type are merely representative. You could put a name like Origen or Augustine beside nearly every type of love on the list, which is probably saying something about Origen and Augustine.

Questions: What have I left out? Which of these types of love predominate in current theology?

**A comment on the original post gave this suggestion and it is quite wonderful:  Suffering Love: God loves us as a fellow-sufferer (Bonhoeffer, Moltmann), and our love for God is a participation in Christ’s sufferings in and for the world.**

 

Christian Systematic Theology

I think my readers may like this.  Important read for cross-religious studies 🙂

This appeared on “The Other Journal” and is written by Chris Green:

Katherine Sonderegger. Systematic Theology Vol. 1: The Doctrine of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2015.

 

This first volume of Katherine Sonderegger’s systematic theology has already received high praise. John Webster, whose comments are printed on the book’s back cover, has hailed it as a work of “enduring intellectual and spiritual substance” and “one of the most distinguished treatments of the doctrine of God in recent decades.” High as it is, such praise is well deserved. In turns learned and insightful, daring and provocative, difficult and troubling, the book is remarkable from beginning to end.

But make no mistake: it is not an easy read. The overall effect of Sonderegger’s allusive, elliptical, and repetitious ways of thinking and her opulent writing style, which makes frequent and odd use of capital letters (e.g., “The Lord’s humility begins with His Hiddenness in the world He has made. God is the Publican in His own cosmos” [143]) and regularly slides out of prose into poetry, can be overwhelming. Take for instance her enumeration of human frailties:

The crushing suffocation of sin, the rage that sweeps over us like torrents, the weakness that undermines all resolve, the pitiful self-righteousness that cannot ignore how tinny it all sounds, the smallness and meanness, the icy darkness of cruelty: Christ has tasted all this in His baptism for us and for our sake. (217)

Some readers may find this style off-putting. But strange as it may seem at first, this way with words and ideas in fact serves the work’s theological vision. In the end, the strangeness and opulence of her prose leaves the impression that Sonderegger is drunk with delight at the thought of God’s nature. And who can fault her for that?

Sonderegger makes her controlling purpose clear from the first. Against what she deems the “anti-Hellenist” current of most modern theology, which “has shown an allergy to questions about Deity” (xi),[1] she means to find words to say what God is, and only in this way to identify who God is. To that end, she reinvigorates the doctrine of the divine attributes, ordering the book around three classical themes: “God is invisible and hidden; that is His Omnipresence. . . . God is humble and living; that is HisOmnipotence. . . . God is Eternal Spirit and Lady Wisdom; that is Divine Omniscience” (xvi). After an opening part devoted to the oneness of God, the book is ordered to these divisions, beginning with omnipresence and ending with omniscience.[2]

The treatment of these divine attributes rests on a fascinating, if not entirely coherent, account of theological predication. Sonderegger contends that the “confession of the First Commandment annihilates our thought [so] we cannot think the absolutely Unique” (27). Because God is “Mystery, Holy Mystery” (27), we are left with “a kind of ‘forensic righteousness’ in the realm of creaturely predication” (104), with “servant words, stagehands” (97) forced to carry burdens they cannot truly bear. In this pattern of naming, “negative terms have pride of place,” because they prove the least inadequate in speaking of God’s “Divine Nearness as the Hidden One” (106). She makes the point sharply: “there can be no affirmation of God that is not controlled by the radical negation of form, image, and likeness” (29). Hence, we can only speak rightly of God in praise and petition by “the negation of all creatureliness” (29), that is, by insisting at every turn that God’s perfections are not human perfections “blown up” to divine proportions. She stands convinced that we speak most rightly of God when we insist that God is what we are not, what we could never be.

At the same time, Sonderegger also somehow holds that “the Attributes of God are principally, wonderfully, and lovingly communicable in character” (106) so that there remains a “fittingness, intrinsic to the creaturely world, that allows our language to reach out and lay hold of its Divine Object” (105). She maintains that “the Divine Reality is compatible with the cosmos” (xix; 77–78) and that our experience of divine mystery, therefore, is “not a sign of our failure in knowledge, but rather our success” (24). “It is,” she continues, “because we know truly and properly—because we obey in faith the First Commandment—that God is mystery” (24). It is not quite clear—to me, at least—how all of this fits and holds together.

 The book begins with an extended account of God’s oneness, which for Sonderegger, is axiomatic for all Christian theology: “all other predicates, Attributes, and Perfections, all other disclosures of God as Word and Spirit are governed by and determined by Oneness” (25). No defense for this methodological starting point is offered. In fact, she says such a starting point, because it is foundationally confessional, cannot be defended, only demonstrated (xv). Method follows doctrine (xviii), she argues, not the other way around.

In this way, Sonderegger’s work differs significantly from other recent systematic theologies, including, for example, Sarah Coakley’s God, Sexuality, and the Self, Oliver Davies’s Theology of Transformation (2013), and Frances Young’s God’s Presence (2013), all of which contend overtly and at length for peculiar theological methodologies.[3] Sonderegger, by contrast, remains largely unconcerned with providing an apologetic for her approach to theology, trusting instead that the work will speak for itself. Other times, however, she suggests—always in passing—that her methodology is modeled on the order of Scripture itself and finds its “indirect justification” there (9, 13, 21).

Be that as it may, there seems to be slippage in Sonderegger’s use of “oneness.” Most of the time, she apparently means it as a designation for uniqueness, which she relates to the doctrine of divine freedom.[4] But at other times she uses it as a designation forunicity, evidently in an attempt to counter the emphasis on the doctrine of the Trinity so prevalent in Christian dogmatic theology after Karl Barth. In so doing, she sometimes suggests—purposefully or not—that God’s oneness is more basic than God’s threeness, as if the hypostatic relations depend upon and derive from the preexisting divine nature.

In spite of her (acknowledged) debts to Barth, Sonderegger wants to move beyond a radically christocentric account of God.[5] This includes if not an outright rejection of the identity of the economic and immanent Trinities, at least a modification of those Trinities. As she puts it, while it is true that oneness may be used to describe “the Divine activity ad extra” (15), we need to “go further” (15), developing a doctrine of God that reveals divine oneness as a “metaphysical predicate” (15) without grounding that revelation in or deriving it from reflection on the events of God’s life in Christ (xvii).[6] She even goes so far as to say she wants to treat the deity of Christ in distinction from his humanity, not working “up” from his story by a narrative reading of the gospels but “down” to it from meditation on the divine perfections (xvii–xviii).

Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether such work could and should be done, it seems to me that Sonderegger does not always submit to her own methodological controls. Again and again, in section after section, she finds in the stories of Scripture—all of which she takes as belonging to the story of Christ—the light that illumines for us the beauty of the divine nature. The notion of God’s humility is basic to everything she says about God’s presence, power, and knowledge, and she acknowledges outright that we can only speak of God as humble because God has let himself be known as a creature in Christ (75).

Similarly, after she asserts that God is “the Aseity that is Love” (xvi), and that without absolute freedom in self-determination God would not be God, she goes on to say that the only way to make faithful sense of the doctrine is as the way in which God is able to “reside among us, without contradiction or identity or annihilation” (83), a truth we know only through the life of Jesus as it is storied to us! In her account of divine predication, she confesses that “in Christ alone does the Divine Reality directlycommunicate, touch but also [make itself available to] be touched by creaturehood, find a proper and true ‘point of contact’” (105).

What is more, and again in contrast to what one would expect given her stated methodological commitments, Sonderegger’s readings of Scripture are both narratival and Trinitarian, because they are centered on Jesus. In a spectacular passage, she describes the book of Numbers as “the event and literary remains of the inner Life of Christ” (293). The Christian reading of Numbers “brings us within the veil, to the holy mercy seat, to Christ’s own Person” (293). In these stories of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness, we read “in broken fragments . . . Christ’s own mind in Gethsemane, His own Inwardness on the cross” (293). Indeed, Sonderegger goes so far as to claim that “primarily, at ground, the Christian faithful read the whole Bible in lumine Christibecause we encounter there the Wonder, the created Sign, the Object that bears the Divine Word” (213). In the end, then, despite her professed intentions, Sonderegger’s doctrine of God is radically christocentric—and I am convinced it is all the better for it.

Sonderegger frequently appeals to premodern arguments against characteristically modern teachings and habits of thought, but hers is nonetheless a decidedly contemporary work. As she says, “the truths of the faith must be gained anew in each generation” (172). Perhaps the best way to read this book, then, is as an attempt to regain the significance and centrality of the divine attributes in Christian teaching as they matter for Christians in the postmodern West.

Bearing that in mind, Sonderegger’s work makes at least two remarkable contributions to contemporary theological conversation. First, in measured agreement with process theologians and open theists, she holds that traditional accounts of God’s power will not do. We need, she argues, a “radical break with the [Augustinian] tradition” (177). We need to rid ourselves of the equally inadequate modern alternatives as well. To that end, “Divine Omnipotence, the Lord’s Holy Humility, must be removed from the category cause altogether” (177), and a “noncausal account of Divine Power” must be developed (177). In the shadows of the cruelty and senselessness of evil and injustice, we must not speak of God as one who does whatever God wants or as “Absolute Cause” (210). We need instead to think of God as so compatible with creaturely reality that all things can be what they are in themselves, without being distanced from God (as in Deism) and without God being collapsed into them (as in Pantheism). All things exists in a “living relation” with the living God (292), as God “descends down through the individuals and kinds He has made with His own Life, His own Vitality and Truth, so that they catch Fire, they combust with the Life that is Divine—yet they remain their own kind, the bush not consumed” (266). God is the one who “bears all things,” as it were, in silence: “The Lord does not lift up His Voice as He sustains the world, does not announce His Presence as He bears us from nothingness into the frail reality of creaturely life” (239).[7]

Second, and just as provocatively, Sonderegger proposes that we need to rethink the doctrine of divine knowledge. Against most traditional accounts—including that of Thomas Aquinas, which she holds as among the best—God does not intellectually observe and collect “the events and doings of His creatures” (349). Instead, “God’s Presence to creatures is intellectual Nearness to full creaturely reality, including the marking of time” (351). In other words, God does not know us—including our sin—in a “third-person” way, as a perfect observer standing over and against us, cataloging all the details of our reality. God knows us, rather, in a “first-person” way. God knows—personally!—the “very fabric” of our lives, and from within that knowing, God the Spirit intercedes for us, “and in just this way, marks out the space between Creator and creature that is the Creator’s own gift” (362).

Finally, we can fittingly end where Sonderegger begins. In the Preface, after setting out her intention to deal with deity as such—the what of God—she concludes: “the Objectivity of God closes the intellect up in wonder. The richness of this Mystery in inexhaustible, and we study it only in prayer” (xiii). I believe it is to her credit that her work, with all of its strangenesses and difficulties, pushes readers in the direction of wonder and prayer, even while it pulls them into deeper study and more critical reflection. What are those if not the marks of faithful theology?


[1] In this way, Sonderegger’s agenda turns out to be remarkably similar to that of Sarah Coakley, who opens the first volume of her systematics (God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ [Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013], 1) with the claim that she intends, unapologetically and against the tide of popular habit, to begin with the doctrine of God.

[2] In keeping with her aim to write theology that is thoroughgoingly biblical, Sonderegger ties her treatment of omnipresence to readings of the stories of Isaiah and Elisha. In the same way, she treats omnipotence in conversation with Jeremiah, the book of Numbers, and Genesis 1 and 2, and omniscience through engagement with the Wisdom literature, the relation of Moses to Christ, and the story of Jonathan and David.

[3] See Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self; Davies, Theology of Transformation: Faith, Freedom, and the Christian Act (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013); and Young, God’s Presence: A Contemporary Capitulation of Early Christianity(Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

[4] She even has a battle cry: “monotheism is not a shame word!” (xiv). On this point, as so many others, she is indebted to Karl Barth, although she disagrees with him often and always at least as deeply as she depends upon him.

[5] Coakley makes a similar move. See her God, Sexuality, and the Self, xiv–xv.

[6] Interestingly, Sonderegger and Coakley evidently share the first commitment—that theology need not begin with Christology—but not the second. At least it is not clear how Coakley’s account of theotic participation in prayer would work if she accepted Sonderegger’s reworking of the relationship of God’s life ad extra to God’s life ad intra. Given this commitment, it is strange that in a lovely passage near the end of the book she refers to God’s life as “mixed into our world”; God is, she says, “content to be ingredient in this lowly world of ours, to be its Light, and to present asadmixture in this unholy place” (449–50, italics added).

[7] She is clear: this is not a theodicy, but it is a way of avoiding speaking blasphemously of God, either by attributing evil to him or by making him powerless in the face of evil.