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Systematische Theologie: Dogmatik


Buckley, James J., and David S. Yeago [Eds.]


Knowing the Triune God. The Work of the Spirit in the Practices of the Church.


Grand Rapids-Cambridge: Eerdmans 2001. X, 283 S. gr.8. Kart. US$ 29,00. ISBN 0-8028-4804-4.


Colin Gunton

American theology is beginning to develop a new heart, away from its preoccupation with theological respectability in the academy, and the accompanying obsession with method. Not that worries about the academy are ever very far away, and the writers of these papers spend some time, perhaps too much time, sniping at the opposition, and especially the practice of biblical criticism, surely already suffering critique from within the discipline. The fact that this book is dedicated to two senior American theologians and their wives is also significant. Robert Jenson and Carl Braaten, by their refusal, at some personal cost, to conform to fashionable approaches, have made it possible for what can almost be called a generation of younger theologians to come together in a kind of loose alliance, across confessional and other boundaries. But there is one boundary within which they seek to keep, and it is that of a commitment to the historic faith of the church. These essays are concerned to relate theology to the church, or rather to do theology in the service of the church.

The book is divided into three parts, dealing, respectively, with sources for, formation in and disputed questions about the Trinity. The sources are approached in what can be called a catholic direction, tending to give the primary emphasis not to scripture but to the church and her liturgy, and that is surely the wrong direction. Scripture and its inspiration are to be sure given a deeply learned and perceptive paper by David Yeago, though he may be over-dominated by looking over his shoulder at the approach to the canon by the guild of biblical scholars.

Another orientation common to the papers lies in the fact that almost all are concerned to assault the Enlightenment-dominated conceptions of theology, but they are far more diverse in other respects. Thus A. N. Williams' account of the relation of spirituality and theology in Augustine's doctrine of the Trinity says little about either the Spirit or the church, as the title of the book may lead one to expect, but uses her topic to recommend Augustine's epistemology and contemplative tone alike, and to criticise in their light modern practices of spirituality that are not theological and of theology that is in no way directed to spiritual ends. Similarly, the call for a new approach to baptismal catechesis, treated at length in Gregory Jones' paper, derives from the need for a satisfactory process of initiation for Christian people in a time when ignorance of the faith's content and practices has waned in the church. And Susan Wood's paper on the liturgy draws upon one important post-enlightenment - he preferred the term post-critical - thinker, Michael Polanyi, whose philosophy of participation is used to illumine aspects of Christian worship.

A prominent theme is the ecumenical, and indeed the authors come from a wide range of ecclesiastical confession, including the Roman Catholic. Ecumenism has in recent decades come to include a concern for relations with Israel, and one of the papers is dedicated to the question of Israel and the Trinity. In it, Bruce Marshall engages in a sustained and learned consideration of whether, and in what sense, the Trinity is to be found in the Old Testament. Acknowledging all the difficulties and pitfalls, he ends rather inconclusively, and perhaps that is right. However, his pursuing the question of whether the God of the Old Testament can be identified as the Son, the Father, or the Trinity seems to me to mistake the fact that there is a sense in which the latter two are identical. As a citation from Irenaeus which he uses shows, to name the Father is to name the Son and the Spirit, for Father, as John Zizioulas never tires of reminding us, is a relational term. Marshall's repeated insistence that reference to Jesus is sufficient, but also necessary, to identify the three persons of the Trinity (252) fails to put the emphasis in that place, and seems likely to repeat the traditional western tendency of marginalizing the Spirit. Equally, there would be less difficulty in answering the question of the identity of the Lord to whom the infant Jesus was presented in the Temple. After all, is it not the heart of the theology of the Letter to the Hebrews that presenting himself to the Father is precisely what it is the calling of the incarnate Lord to do? Marshall is aware of the problem, but it seems to me that some appeal to the Athanasian christological position, which emerged into history again as the Calvinist extra, would make it possible at least to look at the problem more clearly.

Despite the riches of this book, I remain convinced that for deep historical reasons, it remains difficult for western theologians to formulate an adequate doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Reinhart Hutter's fine reflections on suffering divine things indeed remind us that Jesus was made perfect through what he suffered. And yet the Letter to the Hebrews' insistence that he achieved what he did in that suffering through the mediation of the Holy Spirit reminds us of another stress that needs to be made with equal emphasis: that the Spirit through that same Jesus liberates the Christian for genuine activity. The weakness of much Christian writing about activity - and that includes the works of Gregory Jones' authorities, Hauerwas and MacIntyre - is that it tends to forget this, and so fails to integrate passive justification and the active life of faith. It is attention to such themes that makes the paper by Eugene Rogers, Jr., a wonderful conclusion to the book, with its free-flowing celebration of faith's freedom for the other, entirely lacking as it does that anxious look over the shoulder that is so difficult for the modern theologian to avoid.