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Systematische Theologie: Dogmatik


Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti


Trinity and Revelation.


Grand Rapids u. a.: Wm. B. Eerdmans 2014. 485 S. = A Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World, 2. Kart. US$ 45,00. ISBN 978-0-8028-6854-1.


Dhawn B. Martin

Neben dem angegebenen Titel in dieser Rezension besprochen:

Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti: Creation and Humanity. Grand Rapids u. a.: Wm. B. Eerdmans 2015. 573 S. = A Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World, 3. Kart. US$ 45,00. ISBN 978-0-8028-6855-8.
Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti: Spirit and Salvation. Grand Rapids u. a.: Wm. B Eerdmans 2016. 516 S. = A Constructive Christian Theol-ogy for the Pluralistic World, 4.Kart. US$ 45,00. ISBN 978-0-8028-6856-5.

This is a combined review of Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen’s Trinity and Revelation (henceforth T&R), Creation and Humanity (C&H), and Spirit and Salvation (S&S). These texts comprise the second through fourth volumes in a series by Eerdmans entitled: A Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World. The next anticipated volume is entitled Community and Future. I have also reviewed the first volume in the series, Christ and Reconciliation (C&R), to which I shall refer periodically in the current review, as all of the volumes intricately weave together primary doctrines in the Christian tradition.
Volumes 2 through 4 continue the work and methodology es-­tablished in the first volume, C&R. All four works attend both to Christian theologies’ global locations amid and encounters »with other living faiths« (C&R, 292), and with a slew of academic disciplines, social and natural sciences, and philosophies. At the beginning of each volume K. details the elements of his »systematic/constructive theology,« that »aims at a coherent, inclusive, dialogical, and hospitable vision« (C&R, 13; T&R, 2; C&H, 1; S&S, 2). Coherence in this theology refers to the image of web and/or network (C&R, 13-15; T&R, 3; C&H, 29).
The inclusive and dialogical impulses strive toward a »transversality,« which »seeks mutual learning, interaction, and engagement in its quest for a coherent vision« (C&H, 3–4; see also 239). Such engagement, however, does not demand conformity, but rather, »allows for diverse, at times even contradictory and opposing, voices and testimonies to be part of the dialogue« (S&S, 3). We will return to the theme of embrace of opposing voices in a moment. For now, it is key to focus on how this commitment to interdisciplinary, and contested, inquiry touches on themes of intersectionality and the increasing complexity shaping constructs of identity, society, and faith. That said, the texts in this series offer a confessional and »robust[ly] Christian trinitarian natural theology« (T&R, 8 – emphasis in original).
As a project of faith, K.’s work affirms »Scripture« as the norming norm (»norma normans non normata«) of Christian theology. Or, rather, »affirm[s] the Spirit’s ongoing speaking through Scripture as the ultimate authority« of theological thinking and practice (T&R, 89.92). This authority emerges not through routinized tradition, exegetical acumen, or ecclesial rule; but rather through the »united work of the Father, Son, and Spirit« (C&H, 51).
This united work, of course, is not limited to scripture or revelation. Through the work of the triune God, »original creation and creatio continuata […] eschatology« and redemption »are linked together […] as integral moments of one divine economy« [C&H, 80 – emphasis in original]. As alluded to earlier, a distinguishing strength of K.’s works is his ability to trace and accentuate the profound interconnection of doctrines in the Christian tradition. As woven together so seamlessly, readers develop a sense of the perichoretic nature of these doctrinal confessions. A frame of perichoresis, then, appears to frame the breadth of this trinitarian work.
The Trinity, as noted above, serves as the core, frame, and engine of K.’s volumes. In fact, the theologian states that »all theology must be a trinitarian theology« (C&H, 10). At the root of this statement is the conviction that »the biblical narrative pushes con-structive theology to envision God in personal, dynamic, elusive, and emerging terms« (T&R, 244). Such a vision leads to a »communion theology,« a theology rooted in relational, mutual, and emerging conceptions of God. And it is this idea and practice of trinitar­-ian, or communion, theology that provides a paradigm for engage-ment: »communion is about encountering the other in a mutually learn­ing yet challenging atmosphere« (T&R, 361). There emerges a potential tension, it seems, in the relational and communal dy-namics.
K., Professor of Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, interestingly locates his works as in-between space-holder of sorts. One way this positionality is named is as a theology in-be-tween »traditionalists« and »progressives.« In this in-between space, traditionalists might warn that the four works are »too open to new voices […] and sets of issues«, while progressives might »lament that« K.’s »proposal is still too much stuck with Christian tradition« ( T&R, 6). This middling way, however, takes on another dynamic in the fourth volume, Spirit and Salvation. Gone is the rather neutral nature of the in-between position. It is displaced by what K. identifies in one spot as a theology paving a »radical middle road« (S&S, 51), and in another as a »radical middle course« (S&S, 208). One gets the sense in this change of language and tenor that K. considers the fourth volume the most innovative and risky. And in many senses, this is true – at least from my reading.
One of the most provocative elements in the trinitarian natural theology developed across four volumes is K.’s call for a »plural, holistic pneumatology« (S&S, 7). On the surface, such a proposal might seem to merely be employing the linguistic toolbox of postmodern inquiry. And, K. does indeed frame this proposed pneu-matology, together with the »plural cosmology« to which it gives rise, as a profoundly twenty-first century endeavor. Not only does such a doctrinal understanding reflect »cultural and religious plurality, the rise of postmodern philosophies, as well as transformations in scientific paradigms,« it marks a »return to a more complex, plural, and multilayered account of reality in the midst of which the Spirit of the almighty God is at work in innumerable ways« (S&S, 10–11.13). More importantly, for broader Christian communities, it attempts to be in dialogue with »two segments of world Christianity […] the Pentecostal/charismatic phenomenon and the Christianity of the Global South« (S&S, 95).
But what exactly is entailed by a plural, holistic conversation that attends to not only its sociopolitical locatedness, but also its dialogue with the expansive body of Christ? Counter to reduc-tionist movements, be they in theology, science, culture, or philosophy, K. constructs a doctrine of God and of creation that is burs­ting with fecundity. This vision attempts to see and encounter »the Spirit of God in a highly pluralistic cosmology with many spirits, powers, and spiritual realities« (S&S, 10). In an effort to offer a co-herent system – envisioned above as a web or network of interconnection – K. deems it necessary to profess a world teeming with diverse spiritual realities, in order to maintain »the internal con-sistency of theism« (S&S, 100). In other words, if you confess the Spirit of God as a living reality, coherence demands openness to the possibility and reality of other spirits. This is particularly true for a tradition (or theologian) attuned to a biblical witness that speaks of other powers and principalities as palpable entities.
As noted earlier, K.’s proposal for a plural cosmology and pneumatology is thought provoking, as well as challenging to a disenchanted worldview. This holistic approach is not the only constructive proposal K. makes across the four volumes. Other doc-trinal re-framings that warrant sustained attention and analysis include: 1) the terminology and emphasis change in the doctrine of sin, shifting from original sin and fall to the theme of »misery« (C&H, 396 ff.); 2) the »critical realism« K. develops in his conversa-tion with the sciences, which »resists reductionism, affirms emergence, and puts top-down and bottom-up explanations« in dia-logue with one another (C&H, 28.44.46); and 3) the call for a »clas-sical panentheism« (T&R, 227). I will focus on the last re-framing, classical panentheism, as a way to further explore both the strengths and missed opportunities in K.’s trinitarian theology.
Any discussion of theism, of course, draws us to God-talk. Panentheism, in its most basic form, affirms an intimate connection between God and world, while maintaining the distinctiveness of each. This God/world dynamic, focused on the God part, is succinctly expressed by Moltmann’s phrase, »immanent transcen-dence,« to which K. frequently returns (C&H, 185; S&S, 50). As developed by K., classical panentheism reflects both classical intuitions and contemporary insights – including the movement away »from substance ontology […] to relationality and holistic explanations« (C&H, 102). As we saw earlier, K. calls for Christian communities »to envision God in personal, dynamic, elusive, and emerging terms« (T&R, 244).
He grounds this vision on »biblical and theological tradition« (T&R, 239), while at the same time attending both to shifts in worldview, from substance-ontology to relational mutuality, and to evolutions in socio-cultural, globo-cultural, and socio-scientific systems of thought and (inter-)action. This attention is sweeping, detailed, and deliberate. One of the many strengths of this volume is the care taken by K.’s engagements with the sciences and other religious traditions, including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hin­duism. However, one conversation partner K. repeatedly mentions, and yet passes on the opportunity to fully dive into its complexities as a system of thought, is process theology.
K. readily acknowledges that »process philosophy’s […] rejection of substance ontology, mechanistic explanation, and materialism, as well as its rediscovery of consciousness, emerging worldview, and dynamic ontology, provide any theology of God with great resources« (T&R, 214). Nevertheless, K. never fully engages different articulations of process theology, nor traces specifically how process has and continues to shape theological discourse, despite the fact that process-informed thinkers, such as Philip Clayton, are refer­enced and lifted up throughout at least two of the volumes. This pattern of indifference turns somewhat dismissive when K. discusses process theology’s critique of the creatio ex nihilo doctrine. As he frames it, process theology’s »view of God as merely a persuader […] working with preexisting materials, can hardly be reconciled with biblical and theological tradition« (C&H, 70). How so? In what way? These are questions left unanswered in the volume, and lead one to wonder just how hospitable this theology is to those »contra-dictory and opposing voices« mentioned earlier.
Another missed opportunity in these volumes permeates the endeavor – the choice to stick primarily with the trinitarian formula of Father, Son, and Spirit. K. repeatedly, and in different ways, remains »deeply mindful« of the »resulting acts of inhospitality, exclusion, even violence at times – of traditional ways of naming God predominantly based on masculine images that are exclusively normative and (quite) ›literal‹« (T&R, 317; see also C&H, 79 and S&S, 20). Nevertheless, throughout the conversation, he refrains from the use of formulas such as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer or numerous other biblically rich and meaningful names. Recurrent practice and modeling are perhaps the best ways to express mindfulness of exclusion. That said, in S&S, K. »at times uses masculine and at other times uses feminine pronouns to balance and correct one-sided male-dominant language« (20). How much this balances and corrects remains a question.
What is beyond question is the breadth of the theological endeavor taken, and the contributions it makes to interfaith and science/religion conversations. Two primary theological voices shape the tenor of these texts, Wolfhart Pannenberg and Jürgen Moltmann, with insights appreciatively drawn from Karl Barth, Michael Welker, Philip Clayton, and Mayra Rivera, to name but a few. This systematic theology would serve well the purposes of an advanced seminar in seminary classrooms.