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Systematische Theologie: Dogmatik


Bass, Dorothy C., Calahan, Kathleen A., Miller-McLemore, Bonnie J., Nieman, James R., and Christian B. Scharen


Christian Practical Wisdom. What It Is, Why It Matters.


Grand Rapids u. a.: Wm. B. Eerdmans 2016. 344 S. Kart. US$ 30,00. ISBN 978-0-8028-6873-2.


Eric E. Hall

I admit that when I first picked up this book, my expectations were to read yet another book on what many contemporary thinkers have come to call »embodied thinking« – simplistic accounts of our think-ing and its motivations that look more like progressive politics than genuine wonder. At least this reader found that motivation to be far from the case, being delivered instead an interesting text on the what the authors call Christian practical wisdom, a term that draws on all of its historical connotations and source in its usage.
Christian practical wisdom – the term not the book – is »a kind of knowing resides at the core of Christian life that is closer to practical than to abstract reason – closer, that is, to embodied, situated knowing-in-action than to disembodied.« (2) That is not to say that Christian practical wisdom rejects what the authors rightly call theoria, an abstract form of knowledge that seeks essence rather than context. Drawing from a broad Hebrew sense of wisdom, an Aristotelian notion of phronesis, and the general Christian framework, practical wisdom become the manner and means by which the Christian, individually but especially communally, contends with the dynamism of life, responding with the evanescent but life-giving eschatological reality to the world as enframed in an immanent mode of being. Any essence, or knowledge, or abstract deciphering depends more robustly on a basic Christian attitude that comports itself toward community, its proper function, and the eschatological horizon that defines such a community. The basic contention seems right enough.
Accordingly, the book is structured with the hope of avoiding a certain contradiction in mind. If, indeed, this book contends with practical wisdom, avoiding a modern and rationalistic reverence toward theoria as such, then it cannot be a theoretical account of practical wisdom without concretely contradicting its own thesis that we need to offer more credence to the role and importance of practical wisdom in our lives and educations. As such, the chapters tend to offer personal accounts with Christian practical wisdom, thick descriptions of such wisdom’s encounter and application, ra-ther than mere arguments. The move is a right one.
In the chapter entitled »Spooning: how Bodies Shape Knowledge,« we enter into a liturgical frame, contending with the ancient statement that »as we pray, so do we think.« The body, implies Miller McLemore in a holy liturgy becomes what Augustine might call memory, and this memory shapes our horizon in which we continue to live out our everyday lives, whose everydayness forms the liturgical bond of bodies that draw us into grace. Or again, in the chapter entitled »Academic Theology and Practical Knowledge,« the author makes a good case for re-organizing especially seminarian forms of contemplating not so much around the disciplines and their knowledge »about« things. Rather, Miller McLemore argues that a cultivation of religious knowledge must be much more akin to the pursuit of dance or art: focused on the practices that yield proper comportment – where to place one’s foot for a particular dance – rather than a discussion of the nature of the dance itself.
This book deserves a read on many accounts, most notably in the fact that it makes bodies interesting again. Genuine surprise emerged with regard to the way in which bodies emerged as liturg-ically enmeshed within a broader wisdom that we attempt to tap into as Christian practitioners, a practice that include, rather than excludes, our desire for theoria. Still, the book has problems as well, even if they are more difficult to find because, one might say, that problems general arise not out of concrete experience as such but theoretically. And perhaps that remains the primary problem for at least this reader. For all the discussion of the fact that the authors are not rejecting theoria, only attempting to re-appropri-ate practical wisdom into its proper spot. Despite the attempt not to fall into such theorizing, arguments are made, and ideas are de­veloped with the sense of wonder that is not pre-determined by communal necessities but in the freedom of the mind. Such a statement is not to deny the content of the book but to affirm its importance both theoretically and practically, believing theoria to have and retain still a co-equal, not lesser, position in the life of the believer.