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Between Vision and Obedience – Rethinking Theological Epistemology. Theological Reflections on Ration-ality and Agency with Special Reference to Paul Ricœur and G. W. F. Hegel.
Cambridge: James Clarke (Lutterworth) 2013. 318 S. Kart. £ 25,00. ISBN 978-0-22717426-5.
The book, Between Vision and Obedience, by George Ille is a rework-ing of his PhD thesis which he completed in 2000. He obtained his PhD from King’s College, University of London in the United Kingdom, under the supervision of Colin E. Gunton. The title of the PhD thesis was, Between vision and obedience: hermeneutical explorations of agency as prolegomena for a theological epistemology with special reference to Paul Ricœur and G. W. F. Hegel.
After the completion of the PhD from the University of London, I. and his family relocated to the USA. He states in the introduction of the book that it was in this period of relocation that the thesis was reworked into a book. The relocation provided not only a new context, but also new colleagues, different voices and new conversational partners, which all provided the backdrop of the rework-ing. New insights and alternative views could thus be worked into the thesis, transforming it into the book. At the time the book was published, I. was employed at Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, KY, US as Affiliate Professor of Theology and Philosophy.
As I read and interpreted the book, the book’s main purpose is to defend certain key dogmatic beliefs within the modern-postmodern philosophical context in conversation with certain interpretations of hermeneutics, epistemology and ontological traditions, by arguing for a specifically theological epistemology. I.’s theological epistemology is based on a Christian interpretation of the biblical narrative of God agency in and with the world through the being and agency of the Trinity.
As this epistemology is strongly founded on the biblical narra-tive and a particular hermeneutical approach to the biblical narrative it can serve as a theological epistemology for a select Chris-tian community who share a similar hermeneutical approach to Scripture.
I.’s understands the task of theology, following Karl Barth, to be ›an effort of the Church to clarify its own language about God. Such an effort takes place in the world (John 17:15) and in this respect has significant ethical overtones in its dependence upon God‹ (XIII). He tries to negotiate this apologetics in conversation with both the challenges of modernity and postmodernity, thereby trying to avoid both the traps of foundationalism and non-foundationalism, without opting for postfoundationalism (see 264). He tries to navigate between foundationalism and non-foundationalism by arguing for the centrality of God’s action in and through the Trinity. I. does this by bringing a discourse of sense into conversation with a discourse on freedom in the light of God’s action (agency) with regard to the world via the Trinity.
The argument is very thorough, although at times one would have appreciated more en-depth engagement with the arguments of the main authors he is engaging with, rather than offering only references to their arguments. I. unpacks Ricœur’s arguments as representative of a hermeneutical project and Hegel as representative of a ontological perspective and it is in response to these two and their incompatibility that he formulates a way forward by proposing a theological epistemology based on the Trinity.
The book is divided into three parts. The first part, The Hermeneutical Self, is a dialogue with Ricœur’s ›hermeneutical project‹. The second part, The Absolute Self, engages with Hegel. In the last part, The »Responsive« Self, I. places his own arguments on the table, arguing for a theological rationality or epistemology in a Trinitarian perspective.
In the first part, The Hermeneutical Self, I. engages numerous of the primary sources of Ricœur’s œuvre as well as some secondary interpretations of Ricœur. I. introduces this first part with a reflec-tion on the subject (agency), placing an understanding of subjectivity in the modern-postmodern debate, from the Cartesian subject to the death of the subject. I. responds by arguing that his contribution will be to focus on the subjectivity (agency) of God as revealed in the Trinitarian Story, as God’s action in and towards the world.
Ricœur is important to I.’s argument as Ricœur represents the hermeneutical situation of the ›present intellectual climate‹. I. therefore focuses on Ricœur’s hermeneutical project exposing its weaknesses and the strengths (openings) of the hermeneutical rejection of modernity. I., having identified the weaknesses of the hermeneutical project, does not want to side too strongly with a purely hermeneutical approach, but retain an element of creation (ontol-ogy) and therefore a necessary mediation needs to be found between a theology of Word and a theology of Creation, which I. ultimately finds by bringing a discourse of sense into conversation with a discourse of freedom. The final section of the book is an elabora-tion of how he brings these two discourses together in a Trinitar-ian perspective to develop a theological epistemology.
The main critique of Ricœur’s hermeneutical project is that it is inadequate from the perspective of God’s relationship with Crea-tion and God’s continuing creation through humanity within the Narrative of the Trinity. As a corrective to the lack experienced in Ricœur’s hermeneutical project Hegel is brought into the conversation.
The second part, The Absolute Self – Hegel’s Journey from Revelation to Meaning, argues for Hegel’s explanatory power of Christian revelation (124). Hegel’s focus on the role of Revelation and his bold appeal to the Trinitarian language of God’s self-disclosure offers for I. an important corrective to Ricœur’s hermeneutical self. He also criticises Hegel for false ideal of knowledge (171), which is ulti-mately a dialectic of the subject within the horizon of Hegelian Logic that explains the agency of the Triune God.
In part Three, The »Responsive« Self – Theological Rationality in Trinitarian Perspective, the responsive self finds itself between the absolute self and the hermeneutical self responding to God’s Trinitarian action in and towards the world. This responsive self responds to God’s action in and towards the world between metaphysics and hermeneutics. The theologian (responsive self) responds to God’s action by partaking in God’s creation and creativity, within the faith community called into being by the resurrection of the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s action is primary and the subject responds to this primary action. The subject responds not with absolute knowledge, nor with frag-ile uncertain weak knowledge of perspectivism, but responds by being included in the story of the Trinity, thereby bringing theory and praxis together. The responsive self is a Christian self who upholds a particular hermeneutics of Scripture and its interpretation.
The language of the book is very accessible and a pleasure to read, the referencing is clear.
The book offers an interesting contribution to the hermeneutical ontological debate, but from a particular Christian perspective.