Saturday, 14 January 2012

Happy New Year

Those of you who have been following this blog through 2011 may or may not be pleased to know neither I nor it has(ve) died, and will be carrying on in 2012 -- though as you might have guessed, my workload will need managing in order to write more often! No-one mentioned that the final quarter of the year would be so busy for clergy...I probably ought to have worked it out earlier. Anyway, now that Advent and Christmas is over, and Epiphany is underway, I have had some time for reading and thinking and thought I would share a bit of what I'm reading.

As far as academic work goes, I've been reviewing four books over the past few months. Three of them have been on the subject of Christian ethics, and the fourth another account of the meaning of the atonement. Of these the ethics books have been the most interesting: Neil Messer, Respecting Life: Theology and Bioethics published by SCM (2011); Edward Dowler, Theological Ethics also published by SCM as part of their core texts series (2011); and Oliver O'Donovan, A Conversation Waiting toBegin: The Churhces and the Gay Controversy again published by SCM (2009). (For the sake of completion, the fourth book is Adam Kotsko, The Politics of Redemption, T&T Clark, 2010.) My reviews will be published in Anvil Journal sometime this year, I guess, so I shant say too much yet. The Messer book is really good, and gives a clear theological focus to a complex issue. What's more, he does so as someone who is both a research scientist by training and a theologian (as well as being a URC minister). I enjoyed the Dowler book, but found it more difficult to get my head around. I think that is largely because the influence of theologains like Barth, Thielicke, Bonhoeffer and others whose way of doing theological ethics emphasises doctrine and theology proper. Dowler takes a much more historical view that incorporates philosophical and non-theological concerns in a way i'm not yet sure about. The O'Donovan book, as you might expect from someone of his calibre, is a very powerful call for Christians on both sides of the homosexuality debate to frame the discussion pastorally around the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this re-focusing of the issue, homosexual people become much more present for the Church - even, I think, for those of us who tend towards a more conservative position.

One other book I should mention that I have been reading for pleasure is Christophe Chalament, Dialectical Theologians (TVZ, 2005). Chalamet argues that the roots of the the Barth-Bultmann so-called "dialectical school" lie in theological-philosophy of Wilhelm Hermann, and that dialectical thinking influenced both men from their earliest days as Hermann's students. It was also their reworking of Hermann's dialectic that caused the eventual disagreements between the two men in the 1920s. I haven't come anywhere near finishing this book yet, but it is brilliant! Chalamet offers something interesting and unique in the story of Barth and Bultmann, and also gives us a much more considered account of Hermann that pushes beyond the usual "liberal" stereotype. He shows Hermann to be some-one whose work is much more concerned to give an account of God's hiddenness and revealedness that is theologically robust. Whether Hermann succeeded or not is another matter, but Chalamet's book should be read by all Barth and Bultmann scholars.


Anyway, now I'm off to plan an All Age Worship service...

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