Robert B. Chisholm Jr.
(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002) 512pp. ISBN 080102529X
Here is a book on prophetic literature that is in a genre almost of its own! It has neither the kind of information traditionally found in "introductions", nor is it a one-volume commentary with extensive introductions and verse by verse exegesis, although it is closer to the latter. It continues the series by the same publisher, following Handbook on the Pentateuch (1982) and Handbook on the Historical Books (2001), both by Victor P. Hamilton. Thus its strength is the running commentary on each book (including Lamentations and Daniel), roughly pericope by pericope, highlighting the broad focus of the passage and discussing major issues of interpretation, especially those likely to be relevant for students coming from a conservative background, whether because of traditional understanding or because of interest due to predictive aspects. Introductory or general issues or themes are left to other works. Thus there is no general introduction to the nature of prophecy or prophetic literature and only a very brief introduction to each book describing the historical setting (from half a page for Ezekiel to one and a half pages for Isaiah, but four on Daniel) – but the commentary is lengthy (123 pages on Isaiah, 70 on Jeremiah and Lamentations, 55 on Ezekiel).
Chisholm is Professor of Old Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and known to many through his very helpful From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew (Baker, 1998). As in that work so this handbook is marked by lucid writing, sensitivity to student situations, close attention to details of the text, competency in utilizing the diversity of modern scholarship, and irenic discussion of contentious issues. It is rare for his comments not to illuminate the text, guiding the reader through the forest. While writing from a conservative position, and mainly for students from such a background, he provides insights and analyses that will benefit a wider range of readers.
As expected, in general his conclusions are conservative, although these may surprise some who have a stereotype in mind! Two of many examples are his discussion on Isaiah 7:14 (pp. 31–34) where he argues for ‘almah as "young lady", with the child probably being Isaiah’s son, and on the extra-biblical background of the taunt against the king of Tyre in Ezekiel 28 (pp. 268–71). Given the likely eschatological views of the major target audience, his treatment of Daniel 7–12 (pp. 304–29) judiciously opens up other views and details of historical references in the text. In particular, on Daniel 11, while he opens the discussion by referring to "most modern scholars" and "most evangelicals", he describes arguments fairly and his own conclusion seeks to combine features of both (pp. 319–27). A key is his use of typological patterning. Indeed, throughout the book he consistently tackles questions of fulfillment (including Lamentations), pointing to New Testament references and in general adopting a typological approach. While his approach may appeal more to conservative readers, all will benefit from his careful and well-documented arguments.
Advanced students in particular will welcome the extensive bibliographies of works in English completed since 1990 and up to 2001 (15 pages on Isaiah and 18 on the Minor Prophets). Although most of the articles and book sections could be tracked down using a database, it is convenient having them listed, with the bonus of monographs and theses. One could wish for annotations to entice students to undertake such wider reading, as many of the works listed cover issues not dealt with in the body of the text.
The strength is the "running commentary", the downside however being that almost no attention is given to literary structures of a book as a whole, and hence to the consideration of broad themes. While works in the bibliography deal with such issues, there is, for instance, no treatment of the function and significance within the book of Jeremiah of the "confessions" and in the many pages on Isaiah one looks in vain for discussion of possible intertextuality between the Ahaz and Hezekiah narratives, or the significance of chapters 6–9 being surrounded by "woe" passages, or of chs 1–2 and 66 being a frame for the book as a whole. Surprisingly, given the wealth of scholarly discussion in the past twenty years on the richness of the literary structure of Isaiah and its rhetorical significance (the bibliography lists several works), the only reference in the text to such structure is a dividing into "two major literary units", 1–39 and 40–66 (p. 13). There is no recognition of some recent proposals concerning the key role of chapters 34–35. All of this has relevance to the overall theological and rhetorical impact of the book.
While Chisholm rightly leaves out many minutiae and has a strength in pericope-by-pericope discussion, with brief summaries at the start of major blocks, so presenting a flow in argument, his format means that one is not presented as clearly with a sense of the "book". There is similarly no treatment of major themes: again referring to Isaiah, matters such as Zion, the Davidic king and Yahweh’s kingship, "my servant" and "my servants", and the place of the "nations" (which was important for Paul) are only mentioned in passing if at all. Similar omissions could be mentioned for Jeremiah and Ezekiel. In contrast for the Minor Prophets there is usually some presentation of the structure and hence themes of each book as a whole.
For a book clearly designed as a reference book, I ask myself, how would I see this book used in the classroom? It is not adequate as an introduction and overview of the books of the prophets, with attention to literary structure, forms and themes – there are other books for that. Its major strength is to help students with interpretation of specific passages, less detailed than most commentaries, but interacting with a broad range of scholarship and providing clear presentation and argument. Students, irrespective of background, who explore this work will have a clearer understanding of passages, with an irenic and fair presentation of various views. Whether for exegesis courses or for further reading on exegetical issues raised in an introductory course, this book should become a much used reference.
HOW RECEIVING THE LORD’S SUPPER IS AN ACTION THAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Todd B Murken
(New York: Peter Lang, 2002) xiv, 314 pp. ISBN 0820455822
This book is a slight revision of a PhD dissertation submitted to the faculty of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in 1998. It was begun under the guidance of the late Robert Bertram and completed under Reinhard Hütter. The title at first may seem baffling, but it is a concise statement of the author’s thesis that the human role in the Lord’s Supper is to take (or receive) and that this is an action with consequences: blessings for those who take it in faith—faith that Christ is present in the meal in the bread and the wine—and judgement or harm for those who eat it without faith.
The author’s proposal is that we get the Lord’s Supper right "if our sacramental doing is recognized for what it is, an active receiving, yet a receiving that is decidedly consequential, both in history and beyond" (p. 3).
In the first chapter Murken uses the eight interpretative categories for understanding the Eucharist developed by Horton Davies to appreciate and analyse the main accents in the Eucharistic theology of eleven prominent theologians. He groups these into five types:
· Type 1: signs: mediation by remembrance (Barth, Moltmann)
· Type 2: existential engagement: mediation by responding to re-presentation (Macquarrie)
· Type 3: fellowship or communion: mediation of Christ’s presence through sharing the meal (Jenson, Pannenberg, Zizioulas)
· Type 4: sacrifice: mediation by offering the re-presentation (Rahner, Catechism of the Catholic Church, Thurian)
· Type 5: eating and drinking: mediation by receiving the gifts (Schillebeeckx, Elert, Brunner)
Most of the positions accept that the Eucharist forms a bridge between Christ’s saving work in the past and our present life; it mediates God’s blessings. Barth however rejects the notion that the sacrament mediates divine blessing for this to him would be an unnecessary duplication of that which Christ has already done for us and given us directly. Murken comes back to the above typology of interpretations in his last chapter in order to attempt a synthesis that takes account of the central concerns of all the views he has catalogued (pp. 264–80). By his own admission however such a synthesis is not able to be fully achieved.
Murken identifies most closely with Elert’s position, which in turn is very close to that of Schillebeeckx and Brunner. In his opinion Elert goes to the heart of his own thesis by describing the sacraments as "acts for receiving the promises" (p. 259). But Elert does not explicate how acts can receive promises. The main thrust of Murken’s work, as a retrieval of Luther, is to explain the nature of this sacramental action: how receiving is both genuinely active and yet theologically passive. He finds the clue in the object that is received: As Brunner describes it, "the sacrificial bread is the entire mystery of Christ’s redemption incarnate in his sacrificial body. People are of course active in receiving that, and yet they are not active against God but by letting God give to them. This respects people’s agency as the consequential thing it is, without diminishing Christ’s grace" (p. 259).
There are many issues of course on which the eleven authors and their theological traditions do not agree: eg what is the grace offered by the sacrament? What is the ontology of the communion it creates? Are sins forgiven? Does it constitute the church? Murken hopes that agreement on the human role in the Lord’s Supper as an action of receiving will provide a needed platform for addressing questions like these. His work ultimately has an ecumenical skopos. Roman Catholics and Orthodox have done a better job at retaining the centrality of the Eucharist in worship than Protestants, however their emphasis has been more on the Eucharist as priestly sacrifice. Protestants, on the other hand, may have largely lost the early church and reformation emphasis on the centrality of the Lord’s Supper in worship, but they have better preserved the understanding of the sacrament as a meal that mediates Christ’s saving work into our lives.
However there is a more immediate benefit to this piece of research than the more distant ecumenical goal—and that is a proper understanding of the nature of human action in the Eucharist as active reception. In order to strengthen his case, Murken first looks at Luther and finds that the Reformer holds that the believer is active in being justified (chapter 2). He then looks at key New Testament passages and again finds that according to apostolic testimony receiving is active (chapter 3). He then once again interrogates Luther, this time focusing on the Lord’s Supper, in order to clarify what exactly the actions are by which we take the Supper. He finds seven indications that receiving is active; this again confirms his thesis that faith is the action of receiving (chapter 4). In chapters 5 and 6 he further tests his thesis against Bonhoeffer’s writing, but I will not be commenting on that in this review.
I want to discuss Murken’s understanding of human action in justification. To Lutheran ears the talk of human action in God’s work of justification is almost always anathema because human action here is usually taken to mean some kind of human work that would in some way contribute something to our salvation and therefore contradict the biblical and reformation emphasis sola gratia and sola fide. However Murken does a nice job of clearing up some old misunderstanding and in the process building some bridges ecumenically. He rightly points out that to say that we are passive in justification does not imply that we are disengaged or that God acts here without us, that we do nothing at all. It means rather that we do not resist what God does and that we receive it in faith. Schlink sums up Murken’s thesis to a tee: "Faith is an act of receiving" (p. 68)—although Schlink himself does not speak of faith as an action but as a reception of God’s gracious deeds. Murken’s point is that faith is an action that is theologically passive. This is powerfully demonstrated by Jesus’ words to the woman he healed of a haemorrhage: "Your faith has saved you" (pp. 71–74).
The author rightly points out that Luther’s answer to the question, "What do we do?" is not "Only believe" (which would be the fideistic answer) but "Nothing — only believe" (WA 40/1, 597, 4–5). Here we see clearly that passivity (do nothing) is not meant to exclude faith but IS faith (73). Luther makes a careful distinction between two types of actions: credere (believing) and facere (doing). But they are as different as gospel and law. Facere is the theological activity demanded by the law; credere is the theological passive activity called for by the promise of Christ (gospel). Therefore the words "do nothing" are spoken by Luther to the semi-Pelagians who think that by their own faith (where faith becomes a work they do) they can merit their salvation. However, where there is no threat of works-righteousness, Luther can speak of faith as the highest work—simply because it receives God’s greatest gift, Christ.
Ultimately of course it is not our faith, but the object of faith, Christ our Lord, that saves us. Yet these two must not be separated, but subject and object must always be kept together. In the language of Iwand, there needs to be a balanced coordination between the sola fide (the believing subject) and the fides Jesu Christi (Christ, the object of faith, in his historical actuality) (p. 76).
Murken does not use the word "decision" to describe the passive activity of faith because it can suggest that the regenerated human will selects from a number of alternatives, whereas for an actually converted person there is nothing to say but Yes. Lutherans in the past have tended to be very wary about allowing even a Yes to God in case it should be taken to mean that we are free to decide either for or against God. Typically Lutherans have held that we are free only to reject God’s grace not to accept it. Murken’s point however, and I believe he is right, is that the passivity of faith, which simply allows itself to be given to, is itself an action, a receptive action. Whatever God does, it does not happen without the active participation of the people involved. What they do, they do, even if it is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The above arguments bolster the author’s claim that in the Lord’s Supper people play an active but responsive role; they participate by active reception. When we take and eat Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament in faith, we joyfully take the consequences, eternal consequences–his gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation. Murken shows that for Luther there are two gifts here intertwined: a physical gift (bread–body; wine–blood) and a spiritual gift (forgiveness of sins, life and salvation). The spiritual gift is mediated by the physical; the gift cannot be separated from the giver (pp. 146–48; pp. 171–74).
In drawing attention to our responsive action and active reception in the Lord’s Supper, Murken has helped us towards a new appreciation of the eucharistic meal and our participation in it.
ON THE AUTHORITY OF GOD AS THE ORIGIN OF CHRISTIAN ETHICS
Esther D. Reed
(London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2000) XXIX, 350pp. ISBN 0232523525
This is a wonderful, insightful book, written with restrained verve. It is never dull, despite the fact that the author is dealing with substantive issues. It unabashedly aims at reconstructing a theological basis for ethics. The writings of the Early Church Fathers and the decisions of the early ecumenical councils are mined to assist in revisioning the conviction that the only legitimate and effective basis of Christian ethics is the authority of God.
Esther D. Reed is Lecturer in Theology and Ethics at the University of St. Andrews. She is also the editor of the journal Studies in Christian Ethics. While a Methodist, her approach is broadly ecumenical, and, in particular, draws on the rich traditions of the Orthodox Church.
While the central thesis the author is arguing is not new I found her approach creative and stimulating. It is a valiant attempt at answering the challenges thrown up by Post Modernists with their horror of hegemonous meta-narratives and Post-Christian feminists with their detestation of patriarchy and logocentrism. She is intent on establishing, in contemporary society with its debilitated individualism, the legitimacy of a distinctive Christian ethic based on the concept of authority.
The book draws generously on the work of the literary critic, Mikhail Bakhtin, particularly his exploration of Dostoevsky’s poetics, in which he argues that the latter allows his main characters genuine freedom in their development, and in their relationship with him as author. This freedom is built into the text. Reed uses this helpful insight to re-conceptualize the nature of God’s authority, particularly God’s authoring of creation, and the ongoing relationship between creator and created that this stimulated. This relationship, issuing from the love that is its essence, is expressed in care and healing. It is a relationship of reciprocity in which there are responsible and answerable aspects on both sides. In this sense, God’s authority "can be spoken of … in kenotic and dialogic terms" (p. 117). In authoring the creation God allowed for a polyphony, though not a heteroglossia, of responses. Reed argues that it is only a Chalcedonian/Trinitarian appreciation of God that does justice to this perspective.
According to Reed, the authority of the church, vis-à-vis the world, lies in its being the body of Christ. Drawing on Eusebius and Calvin’s Christological perspectives, she argues that its role is that of priest, king and prophet. To defend the "kingly" metaphor (as well as exploring certain elements in the Eucharist, which she sees as central to the life of the church) she draws upon Rabelais’s and Bakhtin’s elucidation of the concept of "carnival", with its suggestion of the corrective value of laughter, its argument that truth is often found in parody, and its perichoretic juxtaposition of images of life and death. In dealing with the tension between polyphony and the teaching ministry of the church, Reed introduces the notion of guardianship, conceived, not so much as the mere protection of a charge, but as the bestowal of grace and the enabling of correct belief – obviously the work of the Holy Spirit.
In contending that the church has a responsibility towards, and a critical role in broader ethical dialogue, she conscripts the doctrine of natural law into service - a "necessary minimum", which she argues is summed up in the decalogue and other tenets of the Mosaic Law. Furthermore, God as author of the initial and on-going creative process, the incarnate Word as communicator of the divine love, and the Spirit as facilitator of the intimate dialogue, the synergy, simulated through the advent of the Word, do not restrict their interest to the church. The Church, as Reed argues, is the Body of Christ in the world.
In arguing her thesis, the author seeks to rehabilitate a number of concepts, like authority, hierarchy and penance. She does this with great ingenuity. She argues, for instance, that hierarchy should be " (1) transposed from the context of individualism to that of corporate relations; (2) ridded of association with pyramidal patterns of social relations; (3) understood as expressing the ministry and ordination of all believers; (4) lived as an expression of the love of God" (p. 248). I guess it would be legitimate to argue, as Reed does implicitly, that there are healthy and unhealthy hierarchies, natural and pathological hierarchies. Both can be seen in nature and society.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and warmly recommend it. It is part of a continuing dialogue. Having read the book, I would like to suggest possible areas for extended exploration. While Reed deals with the relationship of Christian ethics to the broader community and makes the case for the legitimacy of a distinctively Christian ethic within the context of the broader ethical debate, her dialogue partners are Christians. Is it possible to extend the polyphony of voices, recognizing that no community is entirely devoid of the Spirit’s influence? Can we contribute, while maintaining our integrity as Christians, to a shared ethic? This sharing could begin through dialogue with ethicists from the world’s major religious traditions? Is it any longer wise for us to do our theologizing, including our theologizing about ethics, without taking account of the rich traditions and insights of other religious traditions?
I also wondered, when reading the book, whether the time will come when our ethical theologizing will take deliberate account of other, challenging areas of knowledge not usually enlisted in our theological or ethical ruminations? We do this to a degree with contemporary ethical issues that require considerable familiarity with specific areas of philosophical, legal and scientific inquiry. But what about the fundamentals of our approach? To illustrate what I mean, let me confess that, on several occasions, when Reed was encouraging me to consider the theological implications implicit in the Judaeo-Christian myth of creation, particularly the story of Adam and Eve, I found myself asking: "How does this square with all we know of evolution?" Sometimes, I think we effect a neat slight of hand on such issues, recognizing the nature of myth, but generalizing from it as if it were historical fact. This is not intended as a criticism of this book, which is representative of its genre, but as the expression of a hope.
Perhaps the broader treatment I am hinting at will be stimulated by the comment, towards the close of this excellent treatise, that "The implications for the prophetic dimension of Christian ethics include … the defence of universal standards within an understanding of natural moral law. Here … is where an important aspect of the task of Christian ethics begins"(p. 322).
DIVINE RHETORIC. THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT AS MESSAGE AND AS
MODEL IN AUGUSTINE, CHRYSOSTOM AND LUTHER
(Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2000) 155 pp. ISBN 0881412147
This short study is written by the renowned Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University, author of many authoritative books on the history of Christian doctrine. As one would expect, this work is exceptionally well written, it has all the marks of excellent scholarship and it demonstrates the author’s usual care and originality. Perhaps the one thing that it lacks is suitable length to accomplish the task. I found myself throughout and at every juncture wanting much more. It could be argued, of course, that that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing.
What then is the writer’s task? Having all too briefly outlined the convergence of rhetorical theory and practice in Classical Antiquity (Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero) with that of Early Christianity Pelikan suggests that the Sermon on the Mount was "both a message for the Christian rhetorician to deliver to his particular audience and a model to the Christian rhetorician of how the supreme Rhetor proceeded when He was delivering His message to His audience" (p. 48). The task and the challenge is to discover how three Christian theologian-preachers used rhetoric in their exposition of the Sermon on the Mount in the light of the model of Jesus himself. Pelikan’s method is to read Augustine, Chrysostom and Martin Luther as Christian rhetors in their own right, and to examine their work on the Sermon. (It would be interesting to compare the results with John Calvin’s work on the Sermon, given his deep Renaissance inclinations towards humanism and rhetorical language – though, of course, Pelikan does not do this.)
Pelikan is careful to underline that although rhetorical rules were considered to be useful and proper both throughout the early centuries of the Church and into the period of Renaissance and Reformation, the most important characteristic for preaching ("public speaking") was undoubtedly its instruction of the faithful – both its teaching and its application to concrete situations. Augustine, for example, realized only too well through his own experience of teaching that rhetoric could convince people of either truth or falsehood. His aim therefore was "that truth be made clear, that truth be made pleasing, that truth be made convincing" (p. 64). In classical fashion, he emphasized too that the preacher’s life was as persuasive as his words. In Chrysostom, the author suggests that "the rhetorician and the pastor have combined to produce the preacher" (p. 79). In Luther’s repeated stress on the centrality of the oral word in preaching, "the living voice" (p. 88), the Reformer comes closest he ever did to formulating anything resembling theoretical rhetoric.
Having thus briefly outlined the three theologians as rhetors (in some ways qualified by their Christian understanding of both the Word and of preaching), Pelikan moves into the most significant section on the Sermon itself (pp. 97–149). Here he considers the material under Aristotle’s three pisteis, "means of persuasion": that is, ethos, the character (and therefore the authority) of the speaker; pathos, the frame of mind of the audience; and, logos, the message of change.
Augustine, Chrysostom and Luther see themselves as unworthy spokesmen of God, of course. However, in contrast, they see the character of Christ, the Speaker of the Sermon, derived not from his societal or public position, but from his position in the Holy Trinity itself. Given that context, Augustine stresses Christ as the practical Wisdom of God, or Wisdom incarnate; and in so doing underlines the idea that he speaks truth because he is the Truth. Chrysostom, on the other hand, stresses Christ as "Virtue" personified; and Luther stresses the Speaker as God’s "Good Will" made manifest by and in the incarnation. In a similar manner Pelikan highlights what appear to be distinctive emphases for the theologians under the heads pathos (for Augustine, soldiers of Christ; for Chrysostom, disciples; and in regard to Luther his familiar idea of Christians living in society) and logos ("the perfect measure of the Christian life", "becoming like God", and, as expected, "the two kingdoms of God", respectively).
The book is both a delight and a disappointment. It is always good and engaging to read what Jaroslav Pelikan has to say. In that respect this study is certainly no exception. It is lucidly and profoundly written. It sets out its thesis clearly and keeps to the task of unfolding the central idea. The writer shows a tremendous and comfortable grasp of primary sources (as one would expect) and of the social, theological and rhetorical context in which each theologian writes – or, more importantly in this case, in which they preach.
However, I looked for more from this book. For example, it would have been really useful to have detailed Luther’s theory of language – alluded to as significant but not examined in any depth. It would have been helpful too to have examined the three commentaries on the Sermon on the Mount to show (again in some detail) how the thesis is worked out in practice. If Augustine, Chrysostom and Luther all agreed that rhetoric is important but definitely secondary to the Sermon’s application to the lives of believers (as Pelikan rightly asserts at the beginning of the work) it would have been helpful to have shown first the exact relationship that exists between rhetoric and biblically motivated persuasive language, and second how the three theologians apply what they say in their own sermons. Generally, then, the one thing lacking is close argument, a proving of the point. The book is suggestive rather than conclusive. Having said that, the book is well worth reading for those interested in its main interests: Christian rhetoric, preaching, Augustine, Chrysostom, Luther and the Sermon on the Mount, itself.
THE POLITICS OF KARL BARTH, 1906-1968
Translated by Richard & Martha Burnett
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) vi, 117pp. ISBN 080284944X
Jehle’s attractive and informative work, which had its genesis in a series of public lectures at the University of St. Gallen in 1999, has an additional bonus not always found in either Barth or his interpreters: it is succinct. Its clear intent is simply to tell the story (p. 4) of Barth’s political life, and as such, his political life. Other important aspects of his life are not examined, nor is there substantial development of the theological foundations of his political praxis, although sufficient discussion is given to orient the reader to major trajectories in Barth’s political thought. For Jehle, "Karl Barth was not only a great theologian. He was at the same time one of the most significant political and moral philosophers of the twentieth century" (p. 6), and it is in light of such evident appreciation and admiration that the book is written.
After an introductory chapter highlighting the tension which characterised Barth’s political existence, is a brief overview of Barth’s life and career. Then follow eight chapters which detail in a broadly chronological fashion Barth’s political engagements: his 1906 lecture while still a student to the student-association Zofingia, and his years as a pastor in Safenwil and his engagement in the workers’ movements at that time. Particular attention is given to Barth’s opposition to National Socialism both prior to and during World War II, and to his participation in the debate about communism from the late forties to the early sixties. A final chapter presents a short discussion of the major elements of Barth’s political ethics. The title of the book indicates the isolation into which Barth fell at various periods of his life, due predominantly to his predilection to position himself in opposition to those holding political and economic power, and to risk the consequences of a principled stance rather than to bow to so-called political realism. Evident throughout Jehle’s narrative is Barth’s rejection of a privatised faith and religion, as well as any commitment to a particular ideological position. He is shown to have maintained a fundamental concern for the "social question", and for the rights and dignity of humanity generally.
Regarding the questions that have arisen about Barth and the Holocaust, and Barth and communism in post-war Europe, Jehle comes down firmly on the side of Barth. Regarding the former, Jehle portrays Barth as "especially alarmed by "the Jewish question", and not only about the fate of Jewish Christians but all Jews" (p. 53), in autumn 1933. The uncompromising rhetoric, so typical of Barth’s theology, is also apparent in his political discourse. Jehle cites a lecture Barth gave several weeks after the infamous Kristallnacht in 1938: "National Socialism is basically the anti-Christian, counter-church. Hitler and others who may be particularly responsible for National Socialist anti-Semitism, of course, have no idea what they have stirred up...whoever is, in principle, an enemy of Jews, is as such, in principle, an enemy of Jesus Christ. Anti-Semitism is sin against the Holy Spirit ... And it is precisely in anti-Semitism that National Socialism lives and breathes" (p. 60f.).
Similarly, Jehle argues that charges that Barth approved of Stalin and communism cannot be reasonably sustained. Instead, "Barth was against cheap anti-Communism." In a letter to a German colleague in 1950 Barth wrote, "Whoever does not want communism - and we all do not want it - should certainly not wage war against it but much rather support serious socialism! ... in the end there is basically only the positive defence ... which consists in creating just social conditions acceptable for all layers of the population" (p. 90).
His refusal to offer categorical resistance to communism as he had to National Socialism is defended on the grounds that "an ideology that starts with the thought that representatives of certain peoples and races are basically not worthy of living is evil to the core. In Marxism (not in Joseph Stalin) there were at least high ideals in the beginning..." (p. 89). Jehle avers that while Barth recognised the brutality of the Stalinist regime, he refused to urge upon the church of the iron curtain actions which the church of the West was itself unprepared to make, and more importantly, refused to allow the social question which lie at the root of communism to be ignored by the West and especially the churches of the West.
Jehle’s book, in addition to its brevity, has the added advantage of being simple (without being simplistic) in conception and construction. His use of primary sources and recently collated materials, including letters and speeches, from both early and late periods of Barth’s life is welcome, as is his mediation of recent German scholarship, particularly that of Busch, for an English-speaking readership. Those seeking more thorough engagement with Barth’s ethics and political theology will, of course, need to look to other more extensive and sharply focussed studies.
Nevertheless, the book is a useful read, not only rewarding those interested in Barth’s political ethics, but also serving as an appropriate introduction to Barth himself for those just beginning studies in his theology, or interested in Christian biography. Further, its relevance extends beyond mere history of theological and ethical thought. In tracking Barth’s political choices in the face of the chaotic circumstances that engulfed the world of his era, one is also struck by his refusal to make nationalistic or ideological concerns central to his reflections, and by the depth of his concern for others’ humanity. Also challenging is his active and critical engagement with the broader issues and currents of his environment. His response to the plight of refugees and to the reality of war should serve to give those of us in Australia pause in our own context, as should his assertion that "a silent community, merely observing the events of the time, would not be a Christian community" (p. 80). Jehle has succeeded in producing a warm and sympathetic account in which the spirituality and humanity of Barth is glimpsed. One hopes that his book attains a broad readership.
PILGRIM JOURNEY. JOHN HENRY NEWMAN 1801-1845
Vincent Ferrer Blehl, S.J.
(London: Burns and Oates, 2001) xii, 452pp. ISBN 086012311
The American Jesuit scholar, the late Vincent Blehl, had been researching Newman for quarter of a century when he became chair of the ecclesiastical committee established to examine Newman’s life, virtue and fitness for canonization. It is not surprising therefore that this biography has a very Catholic tenor. This is not to imply that the author’s prodigious exploration of the future Cardinal’s theological and devotional development is uncritical or hagiographical. But the nature of the personal quest for holiness and understanding which Newman embraced has attracted a biographer with a similar approach to religious truth and personal devotion. Many publications were occasioned by the centenary of Newman’s death in 1990, and the issue of this account of Newman’s spiritual and theological journey to his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1845 coincided with the bi-centenary of his birth.
Blehl embraces a conventional chronological format in dealing with the critical first forty years of Newman’s life. The narrative in the early chapters is frequently interrupted by extended quotations from Newman’s later writings in order to illuminate significant events and experiences. One effect of this, aside from sometimes distracting the reader, is that the events of Newman’s formative Anglican years seem not to stand in their own right, but rather as springboards for considering the developed Catholic theology and spirituality of his later discourse. While granting that retrospective self-understanding is important, to observe the young evangelical Newman, or to picture the Oxford Tractarians primarily through the lens of Newman the convert seems a rather hazardous enterprise. One should not perhaps be surprised, since Newman himself began this practice in the Apologia pro Vita Sua. However the result is that the early Newman, in his context, does not seem to have the depth and texture conveyed in the biographical narrative of, say, Meriol Trevor’s work of forty years ago, or David Newsome’s recent, penetrating study of Newman and Manning, The Convert Cardinals.
Vincent Blehl’s purpose is to explore Newman’s growth in holiness and truth — a journey which was also one of self-discovery. He draws a candid portrait of his subject, a precocious child who studied Greek and Latin at the age of nine and received his first Greek New Testament at twelve. His conversion experience as a fifteen year old relieved the already exaggerated sense of sin revealed in his earliest journals and verse. His "morbid sensibility" gave his father much concern, and his fervency in prayer and devotion (illustrated in the book’s appendix of his prayers composed from the age of sixteen) confirms the impression of a rather self-absorbed, earnest and judgemental young man. Blehl depicts his subject as almost consumed by self-doubt at many critical points of his early life, yet, paradoxically, often lacking in humility and prepared to be "hotheaded" at Oxford out of his sense of vocation. "How very brusque and fierce I must have been", he admitted later.
However as Blehl weaves his biographical narrative and spiritual reflection together we see Newman’s concern to hold devotion and theology together, just as he also saw truths of revelation not as mere notions of the mind, but to be expressed in transformation of life – "living in God’s sight" as he termed it. One is grateful for the author’s underscoring of Newman’s sense of vocation – shared particularly with Keble, Froude and Pusey in their Oxford circle – and their striving to reinvigorate the Established Church of England, although without any clear sense of where their calling in faith as "blind tools" might finally lead them.
Newman’s early negative attitude to the Roman Church is not downplayed by Blehl. When he and Hurrell Froude called on Dr Wiseman while visiting Rome they learned that their naive hope of reunion was impossible "without swallowing the Council of Trent as a whole" and that "the doctrine of infallibility of the Church made the acts of each successive Council obligatory for ever". Froude concluded, "the only topos now is ‘the ancient Church of England’." Newman’s reaction to the experience in Rome was one of shock. Reunion with this "cruel church" was an impossible dream, because of "the lamentable mixture of truth and error which it exhibits [and] the corruption of the highest and noblest views and principles, far higher than we Protestants have, with malignant poisons." Nevertheless, alone in Rome after Froude’s departure he was moved by its antiquity in a manner which was prophetic for his life journey. He visited the third century church founded by Dionysius, and the height where St Peter was martyred, and identified an inner yearning – Rome as "the scene of sacred history, has a part of my heart, and in going away I was tearing it as if in twain." But when Newman returned to England it was only a few days before John Keble preached his 1833 Assize Sermon on "National Apostasy" and the beginning of the religious movement of which they were such outstanding leaders.
Newman’s patristic and ecclesiological investigations found expression in his academic writing as well as in his published sermons and his contribution of twenty-seven of the Tracts for the Times. As he came to grips with the battle between Athanasius and the Arian heresy, he drew parallels with his own times and the growing conflict he detected between orthodoxy and liberalism. His search for a personal theological truth, together with his quest for a spirituality and style of discipleship in a church needing reform in its life and mission, led to a deepening ambivalence. The turmoil after the publication of Tract 90, his loss of faith in the via media and his increasing feelings of hurt and rejection at the hand of both University and Church establishments, nudged him onto the slippery slope which led to his "Anglican death-bed". His sermon The Parting of Friends, his resignation as Vicar of St Mary the Virgin in September 1843 and his retirement to Littlemore were followed by his formal reception into the Roman Catholic Church in October 1845. One is grateful for Blehl’s elucidation of the theological and spiritual themes which culminated in what Dean R. W. Church termed "The Catastrophe".
Whether the Oxford Movement began in 1833 or four years earlier as Peter Nockles suggests in The Oxford Movement in Context (mis-spelt Knockles by Blehl in the notes), the alliance to battle liberalism and latitudinarianism and both evangelical and Erastian carelessness regarding the nature of the Church was in full cry through the 1830s. Those of us in the Antipodes often forget the extent to which this movement pervasively influenced the character of the Anglican settler churches, our constitutions, liturgies and assumptions about almost everything from architecture to the nature and practice of ministry. Blehl notes Newman’s concern in 1837, (in his lectures on "Prophetical Office"), for "a living Church" showing an integrity in its system which "still remains to be tried" and attain its potential. One recalls Bishop George Selwyn’s similar appeal to "Church principles" in shaping the New Zealand Church, and his discussions with Broughton and the Australian colonial bishops meeting in Sydney in 1850. The Oxford Reformers’ criticisms of the Established Church, and their vision of renewal, had a deep influence on the new expressions of Anglicanism in colonial Australasia – thankfully with some of the sharp corners seemingly rounded off on the rough sea voyage to the Southern hemisphere. While such matters are outside Blehl’s concerns his treatment of Newman’s pilgrimage throws much light on the subtle influences which have made us who we are.
In his research for Pilgrim Journey Blehl has created a treasure-trove of excerpts drawn from the letters and journals, sermons, formal and informal devotional reflections and spiritual writings of Newman, his confidantes and his family. A reader’s enjoyment and profit from this store may have increased had the author been more rigorous in selecting and editing material for quotation, and tightened his treatment of the selected themes, for the resulting volume is larger than need be – better to press on with less digression, for as J. H. N. himself said at the end of his Essay of 1845, "time is short, eternity is long"!
Full bibliographical references are supplied in the Notes, but not consistently for Newman’s own works which are cited in the text by abbreviation without fuller detail of many editions used. This is unfortunate since readers may wish to consult these published sources. In spite of the limitations mentioned above, Blehl’s Pilgrim Journey brings the reader into intimate contact with Newman and the travail of his pilgrimage. Those with special interest in the period may be moved to enthusiastically pull the writings of both Newman and his contemporaries from their bookshelves – as did this reviewer – then move to other recent scholarly studies of a fascinating and complex era of religious history. That would indeed be a tribute to the author’s success.
Warren E. Limbrick
(Oxford: Blackwell, 2000) xvi, 310 pp. ISBN 0631214402
This book brings together 18 essays by Rowan Williams which were first published in various journals between 1980 and 1998. The essays are gathered into five parts: Defining the Enterprise; The Act of God; The Grammar of God; Making Signs; Living the Mystery. In the Prologue to the book Williams speaks of his methodological starting point, and puts forward a typology of theological activity as celebratory, communicative and critical. He observes that some of these essays fall under one or other of these modes, while others are hard to classify. Continuities or unities are more elusive and have to do more with the coherence of a biography, with any lived incoherence providing a reminder of the place of repentance in theological speech worth the name (pp. xii-xvi). In any case, the structure of the book is not obtrusive. In grouping the essays thematically it still allows each to be distinctive and speak for itself.
The first essay or chapter appropriately addresses the issue of theological integrity. It is Williams’ view that language about God is kept honest by turning on itself in the name of God, and so surrendering itself to God. In this way it becomes possible to see how it is still God that is being spoken of. Religious and theological integrity depends on discourse about God declining the attempt to take God’s point of view (a "total perspective") (pp. 3-8). He contends that prayer is significant for an honest theology; it resists the urge of religious language to claim a total perspective. Religious practice is only preserved in integrity by seriousness about prayer, and so if theology is the untangling of the real grammar of religious practice, its subject matter is, humanly and specifically, people who pray (pp. 12-13). To talk theologically is both necessary and difficult, according to Williams. It involves talking of how religion avoids becoming empty and power-obsessed discourse. It is out to make the discourse of faith and worship harder and more authoritative (by which he means more transparent to its origin). And to do this it needs to know when it has said what it can say and when it is time to shut up (p. 15, and compare what is said about Christian mission on p. 39).
Hardly surprisingly, there is insight in this book concerning how theology and church relate. Williams acknowledges the deep suspicion with which churches habitually regard theologians, particularly when theology comes to its visible and public expression. He comments, though, that this suspicion ignores the "informal" theology of prayer, art and holy action that is constantly going on in the church. He notes too that the would-be professional theologian can forget their practical and historical rootedness in the informal theologizing of the community (p. xiii) In Williams’ view the theologian can help avert a divorce between dogma and church through helping to articulate the critical dimension of worship. It is the theologian’s business first and foremost, not to defend any particular dogmatic formula, but to keep alive the impulse that animates such formulae – the need to keep the church attentive to the judgment it faces and the mission committed to it (p. 86)
A feature of Williams’ writing, here and elsewhere, is the close connection in it between theology and spirituality. In addressing issues of pneumatology, he is critical of a "Lukan"-based association of Spirit exclusively or chiefly with the more dramatic charismata. As an alternative he finds in Paul and John an association of the Spirit with the character of Christian existence, creating in the human subject response to and conformation to the Son. The Spirit’s witness is the formation of Son-like life in the human world. This can also be identified as the state of sharing in the mutuality of Father and Son, or as forgiven or justified life (pp. 118-20) Williams argues that the grammar of our talk about the Holy Spirit is the grammar of "spirituality" in the fullest sense of that word: the interplay in the human self between the given and the future, between reality as it is and the truth which encompasses it, between Good Friday and Easter. There is a critique here of spiritualities which seek to restrict the Spirit to a mediatorial or an episodically inspirational role. Williams observes that it may be, as so often in contemporary dogmatics, that we can utter only negations with confidence. In suggesting affinities with Luther’s dictum crux probat omnia, Williams looks to rescuing the theology of Spirit from religiosity and setting it to work in the shadow of the contemporary crucifixions of God and the human (pp. 122-27).
The connection between theology and what Williams sees spirituality to be is evident also in what he says about trinitarian doctrine. He argues that the theologising of christological and trinitarian faith presupposes living in Christ and in the trinitarian mystery, living in the Spirit p. (146). He takes up from Raimundo Panikkar the notion that trinitarian theology is less an attempt to say the last word about the divine nature than a prohibition against would-be final accounts of divine nature and action. From Nicholas Lash he takes up the suggestion that trinitarian doctrine is the grammar, the structure of the Christian "school of discipleship". The trinitarian insight is part of what prevents Christian witness finally turning into the mirror image of the monolithic empires of "the world". A recurring theme in these essays is that being Christian is being involved in witness to and work for a comprehensive human community because of what has happened to specific human beings and their relationships in connection with the ministry, cross and resurrection of Jesus – happenings which have been held to force on us the reconstructed vision of God as source and Logos and Spirit. Being Christian means believing the doctrine of the Trinity to be true, in a way that converts and heals the human world (pp. 178-9)
Apophatic or negative theology is taken up by Williams. (Note for instance p. xv and pp. 146-7.) In speaking of the praise of God he observes that contemplation in its more intense forms is associated with apophasis, the acknowledgement of the inadequacy of any form, verbal, visual or gestural, to picture God definitively, and the expression of this recognition in silence and attention (pp. 11-12, and compare p. 100.) Noting that in Catholic mystical tradition the "night of faith" can be a necessary stage before union, he identifies Spirit as leading us to "Godlessness" in order to bring out of us the cry of "Abba"; as emancipating us from God to bring us to the trinity (pp. 124-26).
Williams sees importance in an honest awareness of the strain and conflict in the church: it is here that there is a constant re-learning of Jesus’ significance. Puzzlement over what the church is meant to be is the revelatory exploration of God as "Spirit" insofar as it keeps the church engaged in the exploration of what its foundational events signify (pp. 143-4) It is not always easy, in the midst of disputes and conflicts in the church, to see the theological point in them. Encouragement to keep looking is welcome.
There is something attractive in how Williams works with theological tradition, in so doing claiming the freedom to explore new directions. In examining the doctrine of incarnation he considers how goals and priorities of existing patterns of belonging (communities and kinships) can be brought together with the constructive work of the Kingdom, the Body. The example of Bonhoeffer indicates that a racial or language group or sovereign state whose policy is to pursue its interest at the direct cost of others has no claim on the Christian’s loyalty in itself. Loyalty is to be given to associations of human belonging to the extent that they equip their members for life in the Body. He joins Augustine in speaking of the city of God as rejoicing in and making use of secular peace and order to the extent that it nurtures the vision of the horizons of God’s commonwealth. He also suggests, though, that now there may be more to say about not cooperating with a secular order which systematically crushes the liberty of other groups or its own citizens (pp. 230-6) Elsewhere, in working with Panikkar, he speaks of cultural and political resistance to forces in our world which make for the reduction of persons and personal communities to units in large-scale, determined processes, resistance to the power of the universal market or the omnipotent state. He finds such resistance grounded for the Christian in a vision of the reciprocity between Logos and Spirit, and thus grounded in a model of the relation between Christ and his Body (p. 174).
Those who have already come into contact with Rowan Williams’ theological wisdom, and those who have yet to do so, might welcome this book of essays. The contents at some points are immediately accessible, at other points more demanding of concentrated attention. In either case they reward persistence and reflection at depth.
Not everyone will agree with what Williams says here on a range of theological issues. Some may find his approach overly apophatic or too steeped in tradition or perhaps too daring. Still, what he presents claims not to be a final answer or a total perspective, but an invitation to enter into serious conversation. It is an invitation worth accepting.
RETHINKING PETER SINGER: A CHRISTIAN CRITIQUE
Edited by Gordon Preece
(Leicester: IVP, 2002) 180pp. ISBN 0830826823
Rethinking Peter Singer is a series of essays the title of which is a play on one of Singer’s own publications, Rethinking Life and Death. The editor of the book, Gordon Preece, contributes two articles, the first and the last. The first article outlines why Preece thinks Singer’s philosophy is both unthinkable and unlivable and the last examines Singer’s rejection of the sanctity of life argument using euthanasia as a case study. The second essay contributed by Andrew Sloan deals primarily with Singer’s philosophy. The third essay, by Graham Cole, examines Singer’s tendency to deal flippantly with Christian dogma and theology and in the fourth Lindsay Wilson examines whether human beings should be given a special status, or whether, as Singer suggests, this leads to speciesism and the mistreatment of other sentient beings.
1) The Unthinkable and Unlivable. Gordon Preece begins his analysis of Peter Singer’s version of practical or applied ethics by announcing that some of Singer’s key ideas are (1) unthinkable, (2) "yucky," (3) inconsistent, (4) impractical/unlivable, and (5) "based on a reductionistic model of humanity, ecology, rationality and morality". People interested in a genuine rethinking of Peter Singer’s work may be put off by the unfortunate ad hominem attack on Singer over his decision not to euthanise his Mother when she developed Alzheimer’s disease. Apart from the philosophical fallacy of this type of argument it should be avoided on the grounds of common courtesy, particularly when the contributors come from the home of AFL where "playing the man" is a euphemism for unsportsmanlike behaviour. Given that the rest of the essay provides a strong defence for why a "rational agent" need not reduce ethics to narrow preference calculus the attack on Singer’s personal decision making adds nothing to the debate. The "rethinking" that Preece does on the work of Peter Singer is however incomplete if it does not acknowledge that Singer himself recognizes that equal consideration of interests is an ideal that very few of us can put into practice (see The Expanding Circle).
2) Preference Utilitarianism and Infanticide. Andrew Sloan’s essay provides a good introduction to the type of practical ethics that Singer advocates. Using the issue of infanticide Sloan suggests six problems with Singer’s moral theory. First, Sloan rejects Singer’s sociobiological account of the basis for ethical behaviour as speculative, second, he rejects Singer’s refutation of Christian ontology, third, he rejects the simplistic account of reason that Singer uses to justify the equality principle, fourth, he rejects the claim that intuitions play a secondary role to consequential calculus, fifth, he shows the impracticality of strict universalization, and last, he suggests, given all the previous difficulties, ethics without an ontology makes no sense at all. Given the scope of the essay and the limitations of space Sloan’s explanation of the problems associated with preference utilitarianism and the equality principle offers a useful introduction for the reader who desires to rethink Singer’s version of applied ethics.
3) Singer on Christianity. Graham Cole’s essay provides an explanation for why Christians have been so interested in the way Peter Singer dealt with his Mother’s illness. Cole rightly shows that Singer’s understanding of Christianity is simplistic and his criticism is too often filled with caricatures of Christianity that those of us who live and work within the faith don’t recognize. Because of his popularity much of Singer’s explanation for how preference utilitarianism should work is contained in radio or TV sound-bites. As such some of his comments, such as the bestiality defence, seems at best to have been an off-guard moment. Singer does not have much time for Christianity and Cole’s essay rightly shows how evident this is in the way Singer describes Christian thought. Whether or not Singer rejects Christian philosophy and theology is not however that significant because Christian philosophy ought not to think too much about Peter Singer.
Some form of consequential calculus is part and parcel of all moral decision making, Christianity included. Elevating the idea beyond a basic starting point as successions of utilitarians have done remains a minority opinion amongst moral philosophers, old and new. At the same time, whether or not I agree with Peter Singer’s version of practical philosophy or not, does not change the fact that on many issues of social justice we reach the same conclusions about how to live an ethical life. At a recent protest march in Perth against the unethical application of just war that John Howard seems to be advocating I was standing in a crowd of about 15 thousand people. The crowd represented a diverse mix of religions, unions, political persuasions and student protestors. As I waited in line to sign the protest banner Sr. Veronica Brady, UWA English professor, stood up to hand me the pen. A few paces away from her, and in the midst of a busy return trip to Australia, stood Peter Singer. He was making his own protest and none of us at that point in time cared what philosophical justification we had for being there. This event might help illustrate that Christians who oppose Singer over key issues that are important to them may still find him to be a welcome ally in the fight against poverty and injustice, even on utilitarian terms.
4) Are humans special? Lindsay Wilson shows that humans do have a special status in the Christian narrative and then goes on to explain why Singer rejects this idea. Wilson explains that Singer prefers the boundary of sentience to be the relevant division at which we treat species differently. Wilson explains how Singer’s view should be understood in light of the claims being made about sentience and the interpretations of his explanation by various lobby groups. He also explains why Singer does not advocate an "animal rights" approach (Jeremy Bentham long ago described rights-language as "nonsense on stilts".) The next section provides an apologetic for what he calls a "biblical theology of animals." The concluding section is a comparison between Christian theology and Singer’s sentience view. Wilson poses six questions: 1) Where do you draw the line between humans and other creatures? 2) Are species valuable? 3) Does utilitarianism lead to justice? 4) Do Singer’s views have troubling implications? 5) What are the positive aspects of Singer’s stand? 6) The question of animals as an ethical issue. In summary he appreciates that Singer’s views should provide the motivation for "biblical scholars and theologians to move toward a fuller theology of animal and human responsibility."
5) Life and Death. Gordon Preece’s second essay in the series provides an extensive and passionate defense of the sanctity of life doctrine and the euthanasia debate. Preece rightly shows that Singer’s use of straw-man attacks on the Christian argument against euthanasia is unfair. Christians who have views of euthanasia represent a spectrum and the simplistic presentation that Singer uses is not helpful. This is particularly when Singer defends his own advocacy of physician assisted suicide by the use of tragic cases and does not admit that doctors killing patients according to preference utilitarian calculus applies to all people, whether they are sick or not. This seems to be the point Preece is making when he rejects the absolute autonomy that Singer advocates. On psychological and medical grounds, or even for the fear associated with medical indemnity, doctors are not going to get involved with patient suicide just because the patient asks them to. Singer is just plain wrong about this and Preece offers a useful introduction to the difficulties Singer would have in convincing the medical profession to take him seriously. The final sentence provides a good justification for why rethinking Peter Singer is necessary, because, "we are forced to rethink the roots of what is most valuable in Western Society."
CHOOSING THE GOOD: CHRISTIAN ETHICS IN A COMPLEX WORLD
Dennis P. Hollinger
(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 299pp. ISBN 080101563X
This is a book which will become recommended reading in many ethics courses and will be welcomed warmly by general readers who are looking for a reliable introduction to contemporary Christian ethics.
Hollinger says, "This book attempts to set forth a broad framework for doing ethics with humility yet confidence." It has two primary objectives: "first, to provide a textbook that surveys the essential issues and second, to suggest a particular approach to doing Christian ethics in a complex world" (p. 7). In my judgment, it goes a long way towards achieving both these objectives.
Choosing the Good has all the marks of a good introductory textbook. It is comprehensive, tightly written, very logical and fair, and well illustrated. It is not a scholarly book but it is impressively well-informed. The author takes account of the thinking of some representative Catholic moral theologians and leading Protestant ethicists. Readers may well feel some scholars deserved fuller treatment or be disappointed at the omission of others. That is inevitable in a book that attempts such a broad survey. However, the author is scrupulously fair in his treatment of Christian ethicists whose position is different from his own, eg., Rosemary Radford Ruether (pp. 145-6).
In arguing that some worldview is always at the heart of ethical reflection, Hollinger takes the case of Peter Singer, the well-known Australian philosopher, now at Princeton. "Singer deviates from many traditional norms and sentiments primarily because of his worldview." The foundation of Christian ethics, on the other hand, is the Christian worldview, ultimately rooted in the nature and action of the Triune God. This worldview is manifested in three ways, he argues: through a narrative component, a rational component (systematic theology - "of major significance for ethics") and a ritual component. All three components play a role in Christian ethics.
The narrative component involves "the stories we tell to make sense of reality" - particular biblical stories, as well as the overarching biblical story of creation, fall, redemption and consummation (p. 63). How this Christian worldview shapes our character and gives form and direction to ethical thinking and action is the crucial issue the book addresses.
Part 1 examines competing foundational theories in ethics; Part 2 explores the context of Christian ethics. It has two insightful chapters on modernity and post modernity; Part 3 focuses on actually making ethical decisions. He examines and critiques Edward Leroy Long’s well-known typology of three motifs for making ethical decisions: the deliberative, the prescriptive and the relational motif. This part also addresses the place of the Bible in ethics. Part 4 looks at the issue of Christ and culture - drawing heavily on H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture. The challenge of pluralism is faced honestly. The book ends with nine models for social action in the public realm.
This book has some features which make it very readable and attractive to both students and general readers. It is clearly a contemporary book of Christian ethics. It faces issues of modernism and post modernism and tests the theories explored by raising current ethical dilemmas, such as abortion and euthanasia; cloning, stem cell research, genetic engineering; environmental ethics; organ transplants; reproductive technologies; sexual ethics and homosexuality; business ethics and capitalism; poverty. These and similar concrete issues give the book a contemporary relevance. Even the singer Madonna gets a mention!
The author is never simplistic in his analyses of ethical dilemmas. Two good examples: abortion (p. 270) and the slave redemption programme in the Sudan (pp. 270-71). We live in a complex world and issues are seldom as simple as they seem. Who could question a programme to redeem slaves? Many chapters begin with a credible case study, which raises issues the chapter will address. The author returns to the case as the chapter unfolds so rooting theory in experience.
Hollinger says he grew up an evangelical (p. 214) and he is clearly at home in this tradition. However, his perspective is not narrow and he is appreciative of other traditions. Evangelical Christians will feel at home with this book, but they will be challenged by it. Christians of all traditions will find much to learn in it!
I have one constructive criticism. There is a good index but it is very disappointing that there is no bibliography - especially in a book which may become a class text book. The extensive end-notes give references to books and articles quoted, but it is unnecessarily tedious to have to hunt through end-notes to find bibliographic references. Further, a full bibliography would draw attention to significant omissions - which readers or teachers may want to rectify.
All in all, this is a book to be warmly commended.
PROPHECY AND PASSION: ESSAYS IN HONOR OF ATHOL GILL
Edited by David Neville
(Australian Theological Forum, 2002) 427 pp. ISBN 1920691006
Athol Gill was known to many Australians as having concern for the integrity of the Gospel, as a man of passion, controversy, and deep conviction. His work as a New Testament scholar, Bible teacher, community builder, bold prophet, and radical disciple of Christ continues to have ramifications for churches across the globe. Closer to home, very few people have had such a far-reaching impact on Christian communities in Australia as Athol Gill.
The writing of a tribute to one of such diverse gifting was always going to be a large and absorbing task. David Neville, New Testament lecturer at St Mark’s National Theological Centre, Canberra, has overseen this project with distinction. Prophecy and Passion draws together the work of writers from across the globe who each knew Athol personally, were inspired by his vision of the Gospel, and have actively sought to keep the vision of the Kingdom of God alive, as Athol so ably expressed it. This book made me laugh, cry, celebrate, and wonder at this gifted man and the far-reaching implications of the gospel. In keeping true to the significant abilities and concerns of Athol, it also offered me a variety of rigorous and scholarly theological perspectives on the life and mission of Jesus.
The collection opens with three tributes that draw the reader into the character that inspired the book. Graeme Garrett writes, in eloquent and moving prose, the story of Athol as he remembered him. As a close working colleague Garrett is able to share a very human account. Those who did not know Athol personally are given opportunity to understand the passion, intellect, humour, and human imperfections that inspired each of the contributing authors. Jeanette Matthews offers three sermons that are marked by the personal and theological memory of Athol as she knew him. A very able preacher, Matthew’s chapter brings together the themes of journey, encouragement, and hope. The sermon style, appropriately, expounds these gospel concerns within the communal context, as Athol believed so necessary.
In the drawing together of this first section, David Batstone writes a brief history of Athol’s communities, especially The House of the Gentle Bunyip, and of the significant contribution that Athol made to the lives of those who encountered him through these ministries. The evident discipleship that Athol both practiced and inspired demonstrates that he was more than an internationally respected scholar. Athol was, before anything else, a radically committed disciple of Jesus.
Prophecy and Passion moves from this remembrance to reflections on the one who inspired Athol. In a study centering around Luke 7:16, William Herzog discusses the prophetic characteristics of Jesus. This essay suggests that Jesus is best understood as a popular prophet whose oft repeated theme of justice and the Kingdom of God affirms the "political and economic dimension of Jesus’ public work" (p. 64). Graeme Garrett adopts a broader brush in his "Tell me a story," which looks at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Each of these "Acts" has a significant part to play in our overall understanding of the gospel message. Without any of these elements our response is not truly faithful to the accounts of the incarnation.
Thorwald Lorenzen offers a study in 1 Corinthians 11-14 emphasizing the centrality of the crucified Christ in the communal life of those who would follow Jesus. The seamless movement between love, community, our need of others, and God’s "Yes" to the life of Christ, made this essay a real highlight for me. It is worth the price of the book. Finally, Frank Rees turns to one of Athol’s central concerns, Good News for the poor. Throughout this piece the work of Jürgen Moltmann on the resurrection of Christ is affirmed, challenged, and questioned as to its implications for the socially and economically marginalized.
The third section consists of five studies in the gospels. So much of Athol’s understanding of the Christian life emerged from his unhindered and unrelenting reading of these documents, especially the gospel of Mark. Francis Moloney presents a study of the mission of the twelve as found in Mark 6:6b-30. Challenging a widespread reluctance to link the two sandwiched stories in this passage, Moloney weaves the sending out of the disciples, the death of John the Baptist, and Jesus’ rebuke of the boasting and amazed disciples into a powerful portrayal of Jesus’ followers’ failure to recognize themselves in relation to the Messiah. This is a challenging articulation of the call to commitment. Keith Dyer opens his essay with an arresting quote attributed to Athol: "The New Testament never quotes the Old Testament; it always interprets it." The study argues that the author of Mark uses selected Old Testament citations to express the gospel’s ethnic inclusivity. This is a provocative and thought-provoking essay that invites us to re-interpret the Good News in light of our context.
Rowena Curtis sets out to understand the second gospel’s redefinition of the social location of women in the Markan community. Her study reveals times where Jesus gave greater status to women than the accepted social norm, times when an equal status was offered with men, and times when the expected social status of certain elite women was challenged and reduced. By contrasting the values of the Markan community with first-century Mediterranean society, Curtis offers a persuasive case for a community that is endeavoring to live in a more inclusive way. Following this, Merrill Kitchen’s study of the parable of the pounds (Luke 19:11-28) compares and contrasts the popular understanding of this parable, as an affirmation of responsible investment, with the Lukan presentation of the Kingdom of God. Her fresh interpretation offers a more consistent perspective on the place of this story within its Lukan context. Finally, David Hunter challenges Athol’s assertion that the Gospel of John offers no good news to the poor. Using the concept of marginalization, Hunter explores this key experience of the poor throughout the gospel. Focusing on the issue of identity and difference Hunter argues that the gospel contains evidence of being written for a marginalized community seeking to establish and maintain an identity unique in its society.
The final section of Prophecy and Passion addresses historical and biblical perspectives on the important themes of mission and evangelism. Ched Myers takes up the theme of the fullness of the gospel message and its faithful presentation. The essay is introduced with an expression of concern towards both conservative "decisionism," and the reluctance and confusion of the more liberal churches over the content and demand of the gospel story. For Myers faithful evangelism involves a call to a life of compassion, political action, work on behalf of the poor, and the demand for immediate and ongoing repentance. To faithfully evangelize must mean that we invite and equip people for discipleship.
John Hurt follows the concerns of Myers by presenting the practical merits of the catechetical model of evangelism. Adamantly defending the place of evangelism within Christian mission, Hurt argues persuasively that the more thorough evangelistic practices of the early church can inform and empower the message of the Kingdom in our own time leading to a more discipleship oriented understanding of conversion. The priorities and perspective of the Anabaptists follow outlined by Ross Langmead. Highlighting both the theology and practice of the vision of the Anabaptists, this essay covers the centrality of the reign of God over the world, the link between mission and discipleship, the centrality of the cross of Christ, the call to follow Christ in working for peace, solidarity with the poor, and the place of community.
Ken Manley studies the life of the Revd. Samuel Pearce Carey, minister of Collins Street Baptist in Melbourne (1900-1908). An accomplished and faithful preacher, Carey became a public and prominent voice for Australia’s marginalized, a significant Baptist leader, and an international advocate of the social dimensions of the gospel. This is an important essay for the remembrance of an Australian ecclesial legend that could positively influence our self-understanding well into the future. Rowena Curtis rounds out this section, and the book, with a reflection on the significance and wide-ranging influence of the members of the House of the Gentle Bunyip. It is a call to continue to strive for the ideals of the gospel, to live openly and vulnerably, and to cherish the gospel heritage.
Prophecy and Passion is a fitting tribute to a multi-dimensional man who influenced the theology and practical discipleship of so many of us. Athol Gill was a wonderful human being, a dedicated and able scholar, a radical disciple. The spirit of Athol is evident throughout these essays. David Neville has brought together a collection that highlights all these characteristics and more. My copy of Prophecy and Passion will be re-visited many times in the future.
AUTHENTIC SPIRITUALITY: MOVING BEYOND MERE RELIGION
Barry L. Callen
(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001) 271pp. ISBN 0801022886
Callen writes from the perspective of Wesleyan holiness, but he encourages Christians of all denominations and emphases to practise spiritual disciplines so that their faith might bear vibrant witness to Christ. Although he begins by appealing to the "Protestant principle" (of creative protest and prophetic criticism of "mere religion"), he concludes by applauding the "New Pentecost" evident within the Roman Catholic Church in recent decades.
Callen is right, at least with regard to the affluent West: "We live in a generation that is sated with possessions and starving for God, swimming in data and desperate for wisdom" (p. 9). Is Authentic Spirituality an adequate life buoy?
There is something for everyone in the book. Even though Callen’s repeated condemnation of "mere religion" becomes tedious, his suggestions for reviving awareness of God’s presence are conveyed with vigour and cover a wide variety of Christian spiritual traditions, from the Evangelical through to that of Social Justice. The range of contemporary scholars referred to is equally broad.
The book is intended for "Christian believers in general" and "students who need to acquire significant theological and historical background related to Christian spirituality". Despite the provisos that follow, I think Callen achieves his goal, portraying the periodic rise of individuals and groups who have found conventional expressions of faith inadequate and sought more vital experience of the Holy Spirit’s presence and purpose.
The structure of the six main chapters is uniform: each first focuses on an aspect of the Spirit’s activity by way of "Wonderful Biblical Words" – the Spirit’s presence (paraklētos), its extravagance (hyperbolē), its adoption of us (huiothesia), and so on. The activity and its associated word are first illustrated in their biblical contexts, with particular attention to their background in the Old Testament. They are next related to "The Rich Christian Tradition", with respect first to the Church Year, then to one of the traditions of Christian spirituality, and finally to some aspect of the Apostles’ Creed, thereby emphasizing that Christian spirituality is no optional extra but an outgrowth of the substance of faith. Concluding comments on the chapter’s theme are followed by several questions rehearsing the main points of Callen’s argument, inviting comparisons with ideas in other parts of the book, or asking how the material relates to the reader’s own experience or to their faith community.
The scheme doesn’t fit equally well all aspects of the Spirit’s activity that Callen has chosen to highlight. But the number and variety of connections he makes with the Bible, liturgy and Creed is impressive. It offers a helpful means of grounding contemporary discussion of spirituality firmly in Christian faith and practice.
Authentic Spirituality is replete with quotations, almost to the point of superfluity. In the opening chapter Callen identifies as "Types of Christian Spirituality" the ways in which Christians have historically related their faith to their surrounding cultures (after H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, 1951). But it is not clear how those "Types" relate to the five types of Christian spirituality identified by Geoffrey Wainwright (Types of Spirituality, 1986), which are major features of the subsequent chapters – the Evangelical, Contemplative, Charismatic, Holiness, and Social Justice types or traditions. Nor is there any explanation of where the sixth type or tradition, the Incarnational (chapter 6) derives from. The final chapter also seems somewhat out of sync with the earlier part of the book. There is a brief reference to the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator, which offers another selection of spiritual variables, and several ways of using the Bible for spiritual growth are suggested, from walking "To the Altar with Isaiah" to "Sitting at the Lord’s Table". However, the chapter concludes by drawing a helpful distinction between the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit, and to this we will return.
Other reservations I have about the book are its relatively narrow historical and social focus. Attention is predominantly given to the post-reformation period and to Euro-American examples of renewal. Callen thinks it is only "a closed view of a mechanical universe" that prevents us accepting the virginal conception of Jesus (pp. 74-75). He castigates "religious people" from the outset, yet at one point quotes none other than John Wesley to the effect that holiness is "religion itself"(p. 31). I’m not nearly as comfortable as Callen about distinguishing "real Christians" from other – presumably "unreal" – Christians. And I find it strange that he should expect the representatives of Christ to be always "attractive, respectable, believable, responsible" (p. 181).
On the other hand, Callen is right to be sharply critical of anti-Jewish attitudes and to recognise that "the Holocaust forces Christians into new spiritual territory" (p. 188). His assessment of postmodernism is generally positive, though not without some qualification. The section on the Contemplative Tradition includes a helpful summary of Eastern Orthodoxy’s experiential theology and its concept of sanctification in terms of the believer’s divinization (pp. 94-97). Callen also confirms the value of honouring saints (pp. 120-2), and remarks on the "worldly" nature of Christian faith (p. 172).
Regarding the crucial issue of faith and works, Callen – who has also written on God as Loving Grace (1996) – rightly affirms the unconditional love of God and does so on numerous occasions. Salvation belongs to God. It is not earned. "It is a gift of God. Too often people try to live so God will love them, but in fact they should be living in a godly way because God loved them first and enables such living" (p. 112). At the end of the book Callen asks, "How does one proceed with this big agenda of being renewed?" (p. 217). He answers by distinguishing between God’s gift of holiness (the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit), and the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, as described in Galatians 5:22-23 (p. 221). The ultimate purpose of authentic spirituality is to allow the Spirit to produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, etc. The final quotation is from Alister McGrath, warning of the real danger that "evangelicals will be so busy doing things for God that they will crowd him out of their activities" (Beyond the Quiet Time, 1995, p. 11).
Truly "there is no magic formula for gaining spiritual maturity" (p. 223), but Callen suggests numerous ways of consciously affording the Spirit greater space in our lives. The book concludes with a Glossary of significant terms: eg. asceticism, awakenings, mysticism, panentheism; a select list of Christian Spiritual Leaders, including many still alive; and Select Bibliographies, including classics on Christian spirituality and books on spirituality written since 1980. Authentic Spirituality would certainly be useful as a text for an introductory course in spirituality.
(Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002), 159 pp. ISBN 0745622798
Beverley Clack lectures in Religious Studies at Oxford Brookes University and in this fascinating study offers us "a reappraisal of human mortality". Her objective is to argue against what she sees as the dominant perspectives of western thought. Central to our humanity are the realities of birth, sex and death; our philosophical and theological heritage mostly sees these realities as things to be overcome: we seek to transcend the body into "the spiritual" and we seek to overcome death through entering into a transcendent life, the life of God. This, according to Clack, is a fundamental mistake. She seeks a vision of human life which embraces and accepts these realities rather than seeing them as things to be overcome. She argues for an ethical framework which will provide a "spirituality" for a meaningful life, but without recourse to "the transcendent".
The thesis is clearly stated and the book is cogently argued. Whether we end up agreeing with her or not, her study is very insightful and helpful. I appreciated the scholarly treatment of her sources and her genuinely perceptive appropriation of these insights into the ethical challenges we all face as human persons. We live in a context where death is basically denied and sex is seen in ways which, paradoxically, over-value it and under-value it at the same time.
The book consists of a series of chapters examining major thinkers and strands of thought in relation the themes of embodiment, sex and death. Most of these, Clack concludes, "problematize the physical world, making it somehow alien" (p. 127). First she examines the theme of "transcending mortality" in both Plato and Augustine. These are presented as the dominant influences in the entire western tradition. The question is how we can find a meaningful life in the face of the reality of death. Plato proposes the contemplation of the Forms, while Augustine suggests a properly ordered life, in which sexuality is seen as defying order and thus must be excluded from the spiritual life. Both approaches see our embodied life as inherently problematical.
By contrast, in a huge leap across the centuries, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir are presented as offering a more open approach to the actual experience of human persons. Yet, in the end, they too place the ultimate focus of their ethics upon the individual existential consciousness. "It is the possibility of a position that transcends biological existence that dominates their thinking" (p. 58).
Sigmund Freud’s work offers greater hope, as Clack sees it. In his early postulation of a "life principle" and a "death principle", Freud really does wish to take into account the fundamental biological influences upon our personal identities. Freud understands culture as the various means by which we seek to overcome the knowledge of our mortality. In Freud’s thought Clack finds a single sentence from which she derives (rightly) much inspiration and to which she returns several times: "a flower that blossoms only for a single night does not seem to us on that account less lovely" (from an essay "On Transience"). Another helpful insight in Freud is the role of story-making and myth, offering us meanings within the present context of our lives. Though these may appear to name "transcendent" realities, in fact they function within our immanent experience as vehicles of meaning-making. On this basis, Clack turns from the quest for transcendence to seek an ethic and life-style which does not deny the realities of sex and death but accepts them and welcomes them as elements in a meaningful and fully human life.
Before reaching her final position, however, Clack considers the work of one writer who took to an extreme the "acceptance" of sex and death as the basis for a life-style (if it could be called that), namely the work of the Marquis de Sade. Here she examines the grotesque, violent and abusive use of sexual oppression and masochistic gratification presented in de Sade’s literary works. In this chapter, only, she adopts the "uncouth" language and terminology for sex acts and body parts used in her sources. Having set aside the possibility that this is the only way for (some) humans to live, she then presses again the question of her investigation, for a meaningful life which accepts sex and death, without resort to "transcendence"?
The hero of the piece is now introduced, in the Stoic philosophy of Seneca (4BCE – 65CE). This contemporary of Jesus and Paul developed an idea of living "in accordance with nature". In Seneca’s Stoicism, reason is not at odds with emotions, as is often thought to be the position of the Stoics. Rather, it is the passions which undermine the rational way. The passions are the effects of emotions which overtake us, and throw us off balance, so that we are no longer in control of our responses. For Seneca, emotions are a rational part of our response to the full scope of reality and experience. The rational life is essentially about acceptance. To accept reality is to recognise that we are born, we are sexuate and emotional beings, we must relate to others and can choose how we do this; we are responsible and responsive beings. But we are also not in control of our destiny: we are mortal. We can regret this, as we may also regret other things which happen.
In the end, what makes a meaningful life is not what happens and what we achieve, but how we respond to the opportunities and experiences, achievements and failings which make up our life. Here, Clack argues, philosophy and contemplation can act as a form of therapy, to allow us to respond constructively to these realities, personal and existential. Thus, from Seneca and some of his contemporary exponents, she derives an ethic of "acceptance", living in accordance with nature, welcoming our social being, our relatedness, our sexuality, and our mortality. We belong to the entire universe of matter, from which we come and to which we go. If we find this acceptance, we are able to live constructively and meaningfully.
This book offers a deeply challenging argument for Christian ethics, as it resolutely resists any appeal to "God" as the foundation of ethics and the worthwhile life. In many respects, I found the balanced and genuine style of the author engaging. The clarity of her expositions, the focus on the main thesis all the way through and the helpful summaries at the end of each chapter all make it easier to follow. Nonetheless, there are a number of factors I would challenge.
First, from the perspective of Christian thought, it seems odd that Augustine is presented as the sole representative of the entire western Christian tradition – and perhaps on his weakest point. No contemporary exponent of a Christian approach is considered. (One thinks of James Nelson’s approach to embodiment as a very valuable corrective to the Augustinian imbalances.)
I wonder, too, whether Clack’s basic thesis is not subject to the same objection that one might put to Plato’s thought: his ethics are all very well for philosophers. Or, to put it another way, this is an ethic for a sunny day. Acceptance and living in accordance with nature are fine if things are going well. Much of the Christian tradition has wrestled not only with the question of what is the right thing to do, but how we can do it. That is, what will enable us to do the right thing, to live the worthwhile life once we know what the goal is? Clack assumes that with a little help from our philosopher friends we will all be able to get there. I think the reality of sin, or weakness of will or other elements in the human psyche, are more pervasive than Clack allows.
The vision she offers is also a highly individualist ethic, which welcomes relationship but offers nothing for the great need for justice, for food and shelter for millions of people for whom accepting death is not the problem, finding a life is the urgent need. Finally, I wonder whether she has not set up an unnecessary bifurcation between immanence and transcendence. The Christian witness suggests that the transcendent reality is not, as Plato insisted, so distant from us, but has indeed entered the reality of our world and our experience, so that our deepest longings find their fulfillment in this relationship. There is an acceptance here of our nature, as made for relationship with God, in an intersection of temporal and eternal, transcendent and immanent.
Beverly Clack’s proposal for a spirituality of acceptance, living in accordance with nature, has much to offer a Christian spirituality, in which we do not seek to escape from life in the present, but rather find meaning in this life as the context in which we relate both to God and to all God’s creatures, in life, sex and death.
THE ART OF LISTENING: DIALOGUE, SHAME AND PASTORAL CARE
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) 218pp. ISBN 0802839673
This book by an Australian writer who lectures in pastoral care at the School of Theology, Flinders University and the Adelaide College of Divinity, has many uses. Pembroke covers a lot of territory in what is essentially a review of the theory of presence in pastoral care dialogue, conducted and enriched through the lens of the philosophical insights of Gabriel Marcel and Martin Buber. He brings some linkages between these dialogical philosophers and the practice of presence through listening, listening which has been strongly shaped in recent decades by the Rogerian principles of acceptance, empathy and congruence.
Presence is Pembroke’s passion and in his opening words he calls it "the heart of pastoral ministry". He concludes the book with "A person with the requisite ability and diligence can master interventions in a few short years. It takes a life-time, however, to even begin to grasp what it means to share in a real meeting with another human being" (p. 218). His writing is therefore an attempt to bring a greater richness and mutuality to this concept of self-giving in person-to-person dialogue. He does this through use of the Marcel concept of availability and the Buber idea of confirmation.
Availability or disposability for Marcel is the willingness to receive the person "at home", that is, at the unique core of one’s being. This is seen by Pembroke as being more engaged with the other than empathy and so closer to the New Testament’s deeply personal splanchnon. It is linked to agape and grace and may involve considerable cost and vulnerability. "An openness to the claims of the other", he says following Marcel; the "hospitality" of Nouwen.
When Pembroke applies Buber’s confirmation to pastoral dialogue, it involves a readiness for sensitive but risky confrontation, a sharing of responsibility for the outcome of the encounter, even at the risk of the client walking away or closing off the dialogue. Its use in pastoral care dialogue is illustrated by verbatims of lost opportunities because Rogerian reflective techniques are used exclusively. Pembroke rightly identifies that indiscriminate advice-giving has made counsellors wary of more direction in the therapeutic relationship, but confirmation rests on the acknowledgement and valuing of the client’s otherness (the "Thou") and goes beyond Roger’s acceptance to challenge the way of thinking or the behaviours evident. This is where the concepts of conscience and shame enter the pastoral encounter.
I was attracted particularly by Pembroke’s promise to address in his overview the rarely discussed issues of conscience and shame with regard to pastoral presence. He gives a strong defence of the role of conscience (and repentance) in achieving reconciliation: that is, in action aimed at healing the wound that one has inflicted (a Buber emphasis). Confirmation on the part of the counsellor includes calling clients to this process when they have become aware of the damage they have caused.
Confirmation leads on to a discussion of "real" guilt and then to shame. Pembroke adds to our understanding of shame in the pastoral context by not only exploring its link to guilt and its positive value to the client in encouraging reconciliation, but by also applying it to the pastoral carer who cannot meet all the opportunities that arise to be available or confirm the other. Pastoral carers are then the ones experiencing shame through the consequent critique of their own self. This is an important acknowledgement of the cost of caring pastorally, because by expanding and deepening our understanding of pastoral presence, the bar has been raised for pastoral carers in congregations at the very time many of us are feeling the pressure of professional expectations and our churches are carrying an even bigger proportion of the hurting of our society.
Pembroke does not offer much in the way of solution to this carer’s shame dilemma, except to say that it must come through the carer’s own spiritual wrestling with shame, and from experience rather than technique. He has referred earlier to the self-giving life and death of Christ as the bringer of the positive shame which leads to healing. Perhaps he could have drawn then on the dying and rising theology in Paul’s Corinthian letters to also direct our gaze to Christ as the bearer of our shame. He does make the urgent but often forgotten point, however, that lack of genuineness in the pastoral encounter is readily perceived and acutely felt by those we are seeking to help. So valuing and deepening presence as the Pembroke is doing makes the quality of the carer’s presence even more critical.
Those wanting to think further about the pastoral encounter, particularly about presence, shame, availability and conscience will find this book a valuable survey of current thinking, with insight provided through the use of Marcel and Buber. There are some stylistic matters in the writing that are irritating. The frequent book-ends given to chapters of: what-I-am about-to-say and these-are-the insights-I-have-brought, is irritating, as is the confusion in the use of person the pronouns he/she. More fundamentally, however, I was looking for greater depth in all these matters and a review or survey approach cannot provide that. Pembroke thinks and writes clearly about a wide range of concepts, and his bringing together of ideas from one thinker to inform his discussion of another gives new insights. My wish was that for a few of these, he had gone deeper and teased out the implications further for pastoral care. Conscience and carer shame are two such topics.
In particular, there is great need to discuss them in a pastoral care context wider than pastoral counselling. Pembroke says that "our interest is in the pastoral presence offered by parish or local community ministers as they exercise their ministry of care. At certain points, however, our discussions will be oriented more to the work that pastoral counseling specialists do" (p. 4). The latter gets most of the attention, perhaps because as the focus of this book is dialogue this readily leads to examples most applicable in the 50 minute hour. But pastoral care, including pastoral presence, in the congregational setting is much wider than that. Pembroke gives a few examples from pastoral visitation but I was left with a desire for more application to other areas of congregational life, including the pastoral (lay) conversations that occur in small groups and the discussions that take place at the door on a Sunday or around the coffee pot. Moreover, as the personal spiritual dimensions are explored which underlie real pastoral presence, the spiritual resources which the carer brings to the dialogue will become even more important and worthy of further exploration by thinkers such as Pembroke. This will need to include the spirituality of lay carers as well.
Mark Beresford, Lecturer, St Mark’s National Theological Centre, Canberra.
Revd Dr Keith Carley, Lecturer in Old Testament, College of St John the Evangelist / Trinity Methodist College, Auckland.
Revd Graeme Chapman, Lecturer in Christian Thought / History, Churches of Christ Theological College, Selby, VIC.
Revd Canon Dr Don Edwards, Lecturer in Theology, St Francis’ Theological College, Brisbane.
Revd Dr Doug Fullerton, (retired) Life member of ANZATS.
Revd. Dr Warren Limbrick, Visiting Lecturer in Church History, College of St John the Evangelist, Auckland.
Revd. Philip Matthews, Lecturer in Philosophy and Ethics, Universities of Notre Dame and Curtin, Perth.
Revd. Michael O’Neil, doctoral student, Murdoch University, Perth.
Revd Dr John Olley, Principal, Baptist Theological College, Perth.
Revd Dr Michael Parsons, Lecturer in Christian Thought, Baptist Theological College, Perth.
Revd. Prof. Frank Rees, Systematic Theology, Whitley College, Parkville, VIC.
Revd Dr Jeffrey Silcock, Lecturer in Systematic Theology, Luther Seminary, Highgate, SA
Revd Dr Jennifer Turner, Lecturer in Pastoral Care, Baptist Theological College, Perth.
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