Author Archives: David Rathel

Announcement of Prof. Dr. Christoph Schwöbel

The School is delighted to announce that Prof. Dr. Christoph Schwöbel will take our vacant Chair in Divinity in September 2018.

Prof. Schwöbel is presently Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Tübingen, where he has been since 2004; prior to that he held the chair in Systematic Theology and Ecumenical Theology in Heidelberg. He is the author of six monographs and editor of twenty two academic volumes, and he has also published approximately two hundred articles in academic journals or scholarly essays in books.

Alongside his research publications, Prof. Schwöbel has served the academy and the church with great distinction through his career. He has served on many significant academic committees in Germany, and chaired the Wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft für Theologie 2008-11. He has a particular commitment to engaging in dialogue with theologians from Asia, and is a founding member of the East-West Theological Forums. He has been editor of the Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie since 2007, and is on the editorial boards of several other leading journals.

In the ecclesial realm, Prof. Schwöbel’s contributions to ecumenical discussion in particular have been immense. He was a member of the Leuenberg Fellowship 1989-1994, and drafted its influential statement, ‘The Church of Jesus Christ’; and he co-chaired the Meissen Conference 2004-2010. More recently, he has been very influential in developing Christian-Muslim dialogue in Germany.

He will be joined in St Andrews by his wife Katrin Bosse, who will take an Associate Lectureship in the School, teaching in the areas of systematic theology and the theology of religions.

Head of School, Steve Holmes, said, ‘We are delighted to welcome Christoph and Katrin to the School, and greatly look forward to working with them over the next years. By any estimation Christoph is one of the leading systematic theologians in the world today, and his arrival in St Andrews continues and strengthens our commitment to being amongst the best in the world in that area. Katrin will help us in our ambition to develop new programmes in religious literacy, helping the School to respond to changes in the cultural context we serve.’

(Enquiries from prospective doctoral students who would like to study with Prof. Schwöbel should be directed to the School postgraduate secretary. Prof. Schwoebel will also take a leading role in our MLitt in Systematic & Historical Theology, for which applications open this week.)

Why Take a PhD to Pastoral Ministry

Dr. Joey Sherrard

Dr. Joey Sherrard recently defended his PhD thesis in St. Mary’s College, and he now serves as Assistant Pastor of Discipleship at Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  We congratulate Dr. Sherrard on his successful thesis defense and wish him the best as he ministers at his local congregation. This post continues our blog series on pastor theologians.


Why Take a PhD to Pastoral Ministry

When I decided, after six years of local church ministry as a pastor, to move across the Atlantic and to begin a doctoral program in systematic theology, what already felt like a lonely endeavor seemed even just a little bit lonelier. When I matriculated at St Andrews, I did so with a clear sense of calling that I would return to pastoral ministry upon the completion of my degree. Many of my colleagues at St Andrews, while sympathetic to intellectual demands of the task of ministry and committed to the local church in their personal and professional lives, came to St Andrews to pursue a vocation in academia and the specific context of institutions of higher learning. The clarity of their own calling and the relative straightforwardness with which they could integrate the work into their preparation for their careers contrasted with my own. How exactly did the work of seminar conversations about the doctrine of divine simplicity and papers presented on the extra Calvinisticum justify the significant commitment that my family and I had just made?

I’m grateful that in my first year at St Andrews I discovered the Center for Pastor Theologians and began almost immediately to be involved in their work. That institution, alongside the example of other pastors, the encouragement of friends and colleagues at St Mary’s, and the last two post-St Andrews years of work as a pastor, have helped me begin to articulate the immense blessing it is to be bring a PhD to the local church and the acute need there is for pastors who have completed the kind of intellectual formation required by a doctoral degree. What follows are three reasons why men and women discerning a call to ministry might consider doctoral work and why those currently undertaking a PhD can find their work well put to use in pastoral ministry.

The Fragmentation of Late Modernity

The lack of a coherent, shared intellectual framework and the abundance of identities now available in the modern marketplace has been well-documented by scholars such as Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor. Modern Western culture is a confusing place to be a human being, let alone the shepherd of a group of men and women who bring into the pews each Sunday the questions and opinions they’ve formed from the various theological, media, and relational wells they have drawn from in the past week. Whereas in previous generations pastor and congregant might be able to agree upon a relatively narrow set of first principles that guide preaching, worship, and pastoral counseling, in most contexts this consensus has largely been lost. And this is the reality not just outside of the pastor, but also inside of him or her as well.

The gift of a doctoral degree is not only the opportunity to go a mile deep on a single biblical or theological conversation, but also the opportunity to think synthetically across the disciplines and historically across the ages. The pastor-theologian already has a tendency to be a generalist; the work of a doctoral program allows one to be a much more knowledgeable one. Seminars invite you to learn about much more than your own project. And (at least at the Roundel in St Andrews) lunchtime and water cooler conversations about colleagues’ interests are where much of the learning takes place. All of this is a significant asset that the pastor-theologian can bring into the study and the pulpit. In the middle of a time of intellectual and spiritual fragmentation, a doctoral program allows the pastor-theologian to begin to integrate.

The Intellectual Demands of Discipleship

This aforementioned integration is a much-needed asset for the pastor-theologian as he or she seeks to shepherd the flock toward Christian maturity. While there may be reason to sympathize with the pragmatic orientation of discipleship that is found in many contemporary churches, a deep acquaintance with the Scriptures and the Church’s theological tradition reveals the thinness of what can pass for spiritual formation. My own work in systematic theology at St Andrews has provided for me a number of tools that have been brought to bear on my work as a pastor: a greater attention to the doctrine of creation for understanding the ends of formation, an appreciation of the structure and depth of Christian catechesis, and a deeper understanding of the ways that doctrines relate to one another.

The work of discipling men and women in the local church is quite different than the work of constructing a 80,000 word doctoral thesis. In many ways it is more complex, requiring relational sensitivity, wisdom, and persistence. But it is not less than a robustly intellectual task that requires the fullness of the Church’s theological resources. Pastor-theologians can be an asset to the Church’s witness in the task of discipleship.

The Beauty of Theology in the Local Church

A doctoral program, and particularly the research-intensive structure of UK doctorates, affords one an immense amount of time to engage with the great texts of the Christian tradition. This time, alongside the habits of attentiveness and charity that the St Mary’s community encouraged in me, led me to an increased appreciation for the Spirit’s work in the Church and the lives of the theologians who sought to be faithful to the witness of the prophets and the apostles in their works. Experiences such as a semester spent reflecting upon the elegance and beauty of Augustine’s City of God leads one to a greater appreciation of and confidence in the riches of the Gospel of grace.

But there is an equally profound beauty found not only in discovering these works and in furthering the conversation about them with the academy, but also in seeing their truths forged in the lives of the saints. In our age of anxiety and uncertainty, there is a deep satisfaction to be found in bringing Augustine’s abiding confidence in the City of God to bear upon the hearts of those in the local church. This is a work that requires not only wise and learned pastor-theologians but also production of robust theology by these same men and women to encourage and edify fellows pastors and followers of Jesus in their calling.

For these reasons and an abundance of others, doctoral students and discerning pastors will find their PhDs put to excellent use in ordained ministry in the local church.

A Journey Through Lent in Monastic Company

Dr. William Hyland

This semester, Dr. William Hyland, Lecturer in Church History at St. Mary’s College, will offer a series of blog posts on monastic spirituality. They originate from a series of lectures he delivered at All Saints Church in St. Andrews. We are grateful for the many ways in which Dr. Hyland contributes to our academic community, and we appreciate his expertise in this area. This first post serves as his introduction to the series.


This past Lent on five consecutive Thursdays I gave a series of talks at All Saints Church in St Andrews on how aspects of monastic spirituality could possibly be helpful for Christians who are living in the world. To do so I drew upon writers from the Benedictine tradition, but also many other writers, male and female, from the wider monastic tradition of East and West from the patristic era through the late twentieth century. In each talk, accompanied by visual imagery, I tried to illustrate the various points through quotations from various monastic spiritual teachers, and relevant imagery.

The first talk was entitled The Benedictine Way of Attentiveness. Here I pointed out many similarities between Benedictine and Anglican approaches to holiness.  After an overview of monastic history before the sixth century Benedictine Rule, I focused on the balance in the latter between 3 aspects of prayerful attentiveness that made up each day in the monastery: liturgical prayer, manual labor, and spiritual reading. If all of these activities are approached in a prayerful way, they help cultivate an awareness of the presence and transforming power of God in each moment and in the everyday tasks of life. I also discussed how the vows of the Benedictine life, namely stability, obedience and lifelong conversion of life, can be very helpful when creatively applied in a lay context.

The second talk, entitled Lectio Divina: Praying with Scripture, was concerned with some of the ways and methods that characterize the use of Scripture for private prayer in the monastic tradition.  One method discussed was that taught by John Cassian in the fifth century, which he in turn had learned from the Desert Fathers. As discussed in the ninth and tenth books of his Conferences, it involves the frequent repetition of a single verse from Scripture, Psalm 70:1, “O God come to my assistance, O Lord, make speed to help me.” By giving oneself over to what Cassian calls ‘the poverty of the verse”, we gradually allow the Holy Spirit to teach us how to pray, and to let prayer permeate our whole life in this way. I then went on to discuss the quintessential monastic prayer known as lectio divina, or sacred reading. This ancient practice was discussed in its definitive form by the twelfth-century Carthusian monk Guigo, where he describes the four stages of praying with a passage from Scripture as Reading, Meditation, Prayer and Contemplation.

The importance of Scriptural prayer for growth in the spiritual life was carried over into the next talk entitled Overcoming the False of Shadow Self. This talk examined how a twentieth century Cistercian monk, Thomas Merton, discussed the role of the Psalms and all Scripture in helping the Christian to develop authentic ways of self-examination, and also to allow the God who is Love to speak to us through the Scriptures and transform all of our relationships, with God and one another. After discussing Merton, I showed how what Merton expressed in a modern idiom for his twentieth-century audience had deep roots in the psychology and spiritual teachings of his great twelfth-century Cistercian forebears, particularly Bernard of Clairvaux, William of St Thierry,  and Aelred of Rievaulx.

The fourth talk was entitled Sacrifice. First of all, it examined the various ways that liturgical prayer, particularly the Divine Office, has been described as a “sacrifice of praise.” I then discussed the ways that the monastic tradition, including St Augustine, has brought out the rich aspects of how our own lives can be joined to the Sacrifice of Christ. I then discussed, using modern writers such as Dom Columba Marmion, Catherine de Hueck Doherty as well as older writers such as Brother Lawrence and various monks from the Syriac tradition, how these ideas of liturgical “sacrifice” flow into and enrich our everyday lives and relationships with other people, and then in turn our everyday lives enrich our liturgical experience.

The final talk was on how throughout the history of the Church the monastic tradition gives us various approaches to meditating on the events of the Passion, and what they can mean for our own spiritual life. We also discussed through imagery how portrayals of the Passion through art have followed these different trajectories of the tradition, and illustrated this through many quotations from monastic writers and mystics, including men and women from the Franciscan tradition, and many others. This was accompanied by a practical discussion of the variety of ways to think about the Passion in prayer and reflection.

Each of the talks was preceded and concluded by appropriate prayers chosen by the Rector, which sometimes included singing a final hymn together. The discussion following each talk brought out certain aspects of the topics, including members of the group sharing their own experiences

Pastor or Theologian? Rejecting the False Dichotomy

Gerald Hiestand. Photo courtesy of CPT website.

This post is authored by Gerald Hiestand. Gerald is Senior Associate Pastor at Calvary Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois, and co-founder and executive director of the Center for Pastor Theologians. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision (Zondervan), and Becoming a Pastor Theologians: New Possibilities for Church Leadership (IVP Academic). His most recent edited volume is Beauty, Order and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Human Sexuality (IVP Academic).

St. Mary’s College is grateful for its connections with the Center for Pastor Theologians. Dr. Scott Hafemann, Reader in New Testament at St. Mary’s, is a Senior Mentor at the Center. The following St. Mary’s graduates and current students are active participants in the Center’s fellowships: Dr. Tim Fox, Dr. Trygve Johnson, Dr. Mickey Klink, Dr. Joey Sherrard, and Matt Ketterling.


I’ve been asked to contribute an essay here in light of my work as executive director of the Center for Pastor Theologians—a network of broadly evangelical clergy committed to ongoing theological scholarship on behalf of the church. But in order to introduce the CPT, let me first say a word about the times in which we live.

There are Christians in every generation who rather forlornly assume that their generation, beyond any previous generation, has at last hit bottom. For my part, I’m not certain our generation is really any better or worse than the ones that have gone before. But I am certain that our generation faces intellectual challenges never before encountered by our forefathers in the faith. The waters we sail are uniquely choppy.

Questions related to human cloning, new definitions of marriage, gender reassignment, the advent of social media, computers in our pockets more powerful than what NASA used to put the first man on the moon, religious relativism juxtapositioned against militant Islam, an ever shrinking social and economic global community, an increasingly post-Christian western culture, the rise of the ‘new atheists’, global warming, and more. If ever there was an age that called for careful, theological, and intellectual leadership, it is surely our age.

In past generations, such leadership was primarily the domain of the Church’s bishops and pastors. But since the Enlightenment, the pastoral community has increasingly (and now almost universally) quit the field. The university professor has replaced the pastor as the assumed theological leader of the church. Pastors, we are told, care for people, preach sermons, visit the sick and provide spiritual counsel. Professors, on the other hand, stay above the fray so they can have time and space to think deeply and write penetratingly about the pressing intellectual questions of the day.

The primary problem with this division of labor, of course, is that pastors remain the theological leaders of the church, however much they might wish to delegate this responsibility to the academy.

The capacity of the people of God to think theologically and Christianly about immigration, ISIS, transgenderism, gay marriage, the possibilities and perils of social media, human cloning, and global warming, does not come from what the professors in the universities are saying, but from what their pastors are (or are not) saying. This is not to minimize the important work being done by academics in the universities and colleges. But the burden of leading the church theologically (with all the attending inevitable ethical implications) is a burden that rests squarely upon the shoulders of church’s pastors.

Theology, as a discipline, has the primary function of answering questions that the Church needs answering. The abdication by pastors of this responsibility has, in the main, resulted in a theologically anemic church, ill-equipped to face the brave new world in which we find ourselves. And insofar as post-Enlightenment theologians now reside almost exclusively in an academic social location, Christian theological reflection at the highest levels has tended to become ecclesially anemic, too often disconnected from the real concerns on the ground. We write deeply about interesting ideas, but we’ve forgotten why those ideas are, in the end, important.

But Christian theological reflection is meant to flourish within the ecclesial community precisely because it is the ecclesial community that theology is meant to serve. And it is the Church’s pastors who are tasked with thinking from within and for this community. The people of God will never rise above the theological leadership of her pastors, however theologically astute our Christian professors are in the academy.

Cue the Center for Pastor Theologians (CPT). The CPT is a broadly evangelical organization dedicated to recruiting, networking, and resourcing pastor theologians to provide faithful written, intellectual and theological leadership on behalf of the church, in light of the cultural challenges and opportunities of the late modern world.

The CPT operates with the guiding premise that pastors are indeed the theological leaders of the church, and that the pastoral community must once again self-consciously assume the burden of the Church’s intellectual and theological leadership. We at the CPT have in mind a vision of the pastor theologian that extends beyond pastors acting as mere theological middle-men—as though pastor theologians were simply pastors who translated academic theology into terms the laity can understand. Such a vision is helpful insofar as it goes, but sells short the vision of the pastor theologian in it most historic and robust conception. In every age, and most especially in ours, the Church needs pastors who not only translate theology, but who also construct theology. Or again, the Church needs pastors who are writing theology not just to their congregants, but to other ecclesially minded theologians and scholars (a genre of theological discourse that I have termed ‘ecclesial theology’, as distinct from academic theology). The Church needs pastors who operate at the highest intellectual levels, and who are able to tap deeply into the Church’s theological heritage and traditions, who are able to construct theological syntheses that answer the most pressing intellectual questions of the day. The Church needs pastors who do the kind of work done by previous generations of pastor theologians—pastors such as Irenaeus, Athanasius, Ambrose, Augustine, the Cappadocians—bishops all.

Not every pastor is called to the highest levels of the theological task, of course. Just like not every professor in the academy is a prolific writer and scholar. Some pastors will discharge their theological leadership solely in the context of a local congregation. Well and good. But the time has come for the emerging generation of ecclesial leaders to press into a new future (which is really just a return to our past) where the pastoral community once again considers itself—collectively—to be a body of theologians.

My congregation is the appropriate soil out of which my research projects have grown; their fears, concerns, doubts, joys, and sufferings inevitably become my own, shaping the questions I ask, the way I read Scripture and how I access the rich textual tradition of the church. The books and articles I write, while not always written directly to my congregation, always have my congregation in view. I have found few things more satisfying than seeing the fruit of my theological reflection winding its way into the lives of those whom I love and serve—bolstering faith, steadying weak knees, encouraging love for God and neighbor, and inspiring hope.

I’ll not pretend. Being a theologian in a local church is not for the faint of heart. I’ve been hacking away at it for a decade now, and it is not all rainbows and rose petals. Local churches very frequently lack the institutional infrastructure so crucial to the theologian’s task. Access to scholarly resources is often a challenge. The relational remove from a community of like-minded scholars can be isolating. And many congregants look with suspicion on a pastor who spends time reading and writing about things that congregants themselves don’t understand. But pressing through and beyond such obstacles is worth it. Being a productive theologian in a local church is indeed possible. It won’t look quite the same as being a theologian in the academy. (I’ve written about that here). But for those so called and gifted, I can’t think of a more fulfilling vocation.

For too long now those with intellectual and theological capacities have not considered the pastorate to be a viable vocational home for a theologian or scholar. This false choice has impoverished (indeed imperiled) the church. The nearly sixty fellows of the CPT are evidence that such a vision can succeed. Not every theologian is called to be a pastor. And not every pastor is called to be a theologian (in the most robust sense the term implies). But some pastors are called and gifted to be theologians, and some theologians are called and gifted to be pastors. If such is the reader of this essay, then reject the false division and embrace the historic vision of the pastor theologian.

Nobody is Hiring, So What Can I Do with My PhD in Theology?

Nathan A. Finn. Photo courtesy of Union University.

Dr. Nathan A. Finn contributed today’s post. Dr. Finn is Dean of the School of Theology and Missions and Professor of Theological Studies at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, USA. We are grateful for his contribution.


For eight years, I served on the faculty at a large theological seminary, where I was part of a committee that redesigned our PhD programs in Historical Theology and Systematic Theology. I continue to teach and supervise several students studying historical theology. For the past two years, I’ve served as the dean of a college that focuses on theological education within the context of a Christian liberal arts university. One of my responsibilities as dean is hiring new faculty in my school.

As both a supervising professor and an academic dean, I spend a fair amount of my time talking to men and women who are pursuing advanced studies in theological disciplines. Almost all of them want to know what they can do with their PhD, especially in a job market where few schools are expanding the size of the faculties. I believe there are several ways a PhD in a theological discipline can be useful, even if you can’t find a permanent teaching post in a traditional university or seminary.

First, you can pursue ordination to the clergy and serve in a local congregation. A growing number of clergy, especially those of evangelical sentiments, have become interested in the “pastor-theologian” model that blends advanced theological studies with pastoral ministry. Like some of the faculty members who are or have been a part of St. Mary’s College, these pastor-theologians believe that theology is a discipline from and for the church, not just the academy. But they also believe that full-time pastors who are able to should write academic theology that contributes to the guild, and not simply pastoral theology that is geared for laypersons (though the latter is also really important). If you’ve sensed some sort of call to pastoral ministry alongside your desire to pursue advanced theological studies, then perhaps the latter should be put in service to the former. (A similar argument could be made for parachurch work rather than ordained ministry.)

Second, you can pursue adjunct teaching opportunities in addition to working full-time in a non-academic field. To be clear, there isn’t an endless supply of adjunct opportunities, either—but there are far more of these positions than there are permanent teaching posts. Furthermore, with the proliferation of extension and online programs, there are ways to serve as an adjunct professor without having to live physically close to a university or seminary. I’m increasingly seeing bi-lines on the back of books that say something like “Jehoshaphat Jones is pastor of Calvary Church in Eden Prairie, MN and serves as an online adjunct professor of Old Testament at Freedom Christian University” or “Talitha Tuttle is a systems analyst for Major Corporation and teaches biblical studies at Evangelical Bible College.” Perhaps you would find personal fulfillment and be able to use your training in a meaningful way by teaching part-time, but also having a full-time career outside the academy.

Third, you can teach in the majority world. Thanks to scholars such as Andrew Walls and Philip Jenkins, most of us now know that most of the Christian growth of the past century is in the Global South rather than North America, Europe, and Australia. In many of these contexts, theological education is a growing priority. With a PhD in a theological discipline, you might be able to secure a permanent teaching post in a university in parts of Asia, Africa, or South America. Or you might be able to teach in a seminary or theological college that focuses on ministerial training. Or you might be able to be a part of a ministerial training initiative that isn’t tied to a brick-and-mortar institution, but takes theological education to indigenous pastors and evangelists. Some positions require relocation to a new country, while others are roving positions that enable you to live wherever you wish. The sky really is the limit if you have a PhD and feel a sense of calling to advance theological education in non-Western contexts.

You’ve spent a lot of time working on that PhD, and hopefully you began the program “eyes wide open” when it comes to job prospects in the academy. Keep writing. Keep accepting short-term teaching assignments. Keep attending professional conferences. Keep networking. Keep sending people like me your updated Curriculum Vitae! But as you do these things, be open to other opportunities and even vocations where you can use your training to advance Christ’s kingdom, serve his church, and contribute to human flourishing.

Reflecting on The Spring 2017 Theology Seminars

This past semester’s theology seminars featured quality speakers who addressed interesting topics. Together we examined everything from the ethics of eating animals to theology’s relationship with science. The students of St. Mary’s College are grateful to Dr. Judith Wolfe, Dr. Tim Baylor, and Dr. Stephen Holmes for organizing these meetings.

Reading group

Student Discussion in College Hall, the Site of our Weekly Seminars

We are also grateful to Rebekah Earnshaw for her tireless work of documenting many of our sessions together. Rebekah posted blog updates on this website that provided detailed accounts of the paper presentations we heard and even the discussion questions that they engendered.

I provide below links to Rebekah’s posts. I hope that they help students who were interested in this semester’s discussions. Students who could not attend the theology seminar may also find them useful. Readers will find a schedule for the Spring 2017 theology seminars here: https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/divinity/current/pg/seminars/theol/

Christa McKirland, a Ph.D. candidate with the Logos Institute, also composed a quality post for us in which she offered her reflections on Seminar Four: https://theology.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/2017/02/26/how-did-this-get-on-my-plate/

Book Review: The Freedom of God for Us—Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Divine Aseity

Today’s post features a book review by Jared Michelson, a postgraduate research student in St. Mary’s College. We are grateful to Jared for his contribution.


The Freedom of God for Us: Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Divine Aseity, Brian D. Asbill, Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015 (ISBN 978-0-5675-2071-5), pp. 240.

In The Freedom of God for Us: Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Divine Aseity, Brian Asbill undertakes a dogmatic and genealogical sketch of Barth’s evolving account of divine aseity. This essay, which began as a dissertation under John Webster, succeeds with impressive brevity in accomplishing three tasks. First, Asbill carefully excavates the development of Barth’s doctrine of divine aseity with special focus on the evolution of the doctrine from the Göttingen Dogmatics (GD) to Church Dogmatics (CD) II/1, without neglecting the breadth of Barth’s career. Second, Asbill situates the doctrine of divine aseity within the larger setting of Barth’s doctrine of God. Third, Asbill locates Barth’s account of aseity in, and puts it in conversation with, the development of the doctrine in the western tradition—his brief but helpful narration of the doctrine’s evolution stretches from Anselm to Pannenberg—and contemporary debates in Barth studies.

Let me briefly summarise the argument. Chapter one identifies the historical antecedents of Barth’s doctrine of aseity, identifying the key dogmatic functions of aseity in the tradition. He concludes the chapter by identifying four dogmatic questions in contemporary Barth studies which Asbill hopes his retrieval of Barth’s doctrine of divine aseity will clarify. Chapter two outlines Barth’s evolving account of aseity. Asbill largely accepts McCormack’s portrait of Barth as an enduringly dialectical theologian, and intriguingly contends that corresponding to this dialectical consistency there exists an ongoing commitment to divine aseity. Chapter three is a description of Barth’s revelational objectivism and actualism. Chapter four discusses the employment of noetic and ontic dialectics in the GD and CD. Asbill likewise distinguishes between a complementary dialectic characterised by ongoing polarity and tension, which he associates with Hermann, with Barth’s supplementary dialectic, in which the divine No and veiling is teleologically ordered to be sublimated by the divine yes and unveiling. Chapter five argues that in the GD, Barth employs the dialectic between personality and aseity in order to identify the inherent insufficiency of creaturely concepts to denote divine perfection. Asbill likewise contends that at this stage, Barth is in danger of projecting the Realdialektik, which characterises divine revelation to creatures, into the divine being itself. Barth’s struggle at this stage to adequately affirm the undialectical peace of God’s life in se sets the groundwork for CD II/1. Asbill outlines the resolution of this tension in chapter six, as he argues that in CD II/1, divine veiling is Christologically ordered to unveiling and the dialectical denkform between love and freedom is employed not to create tension with God’s life, but to emphasise the final unity and compatibility of the divine perfections. Chapter seven provides an anatomy of the fundamental features of Barth’s account of aseity, as Asbill contends that Barth’s account of aseity grounds revelation in God’s self-demonstration and self-movement, affirms God as this particular triune God rather than generic deity, binds creaturely knowledge of God to God’s self-interpretation, and ensures that divine aseity denotes God’s readiness for movement towards the creature. In chapter eight, Asbill explicates the dogmatic functions of aseity in the CD. The weight of the chapter distinguishes Barth’s account of aseity as the self-sufficient readiness of God to be ‘with us’ in Jesus Christ, from abstract accounts of aseity which threaten to undermine the dignity and integrity of creaturely existence. Asbill closes the volume in chapter nine offering a few critical questions of Barth, wondering whether Bath’s account of aseity, despite his stated aim of rendering a trinitarian account of the doctrine, pays sufficient attention to the operations of Father, Son, and Spirit. Additionally, Asbill questions Barth’s dialectical ordering of love and freedom, negatively evaluating its serviceability for Barth’s aim of articulating the unity and peace of the immanent divine life. Asbill concludes by reassessing the four debates within contemporary Barth studies which he introduced in chapter one.

Given that Asbill does not hesitate to address himself to some of the most controversial debates within contemporary Barth studies, and equally, is not reticent to offer some critical corrections of Barth’s account, it would be impossible for him to please all readers. However, his synoptic approach, which always keeps an eye on Barth’s broader dogmatic aims, makes Asbill’s portrait of Barth’s account of divine aseity difficult to dismiss. Asbill addresses four contemporary debates: assessing whether God’s pronobeity is contingent or necessary in light of divine aseity; evaluating accusations that Barth’s account of aseity is a reversal and extension of modern conceptions of the autonomous subject; determining whether the dogmatic function of aseity is to establish the divine presence with creatures or to safeguard the integrity of God’s immanent life in his revelatory acts; and finally, appraising the debate between traditionalism and revisionism with reference to trinity and election. Of these I was surprised to find that I was least satisfied by Asbill’s answer to the question of whether Barth’s account of divine aseity is overly determined by modern notions of autonomous subjectivity. Asbill responds to this charge by contending that such a reading of Barth only succeeds by falsely substituting an abstract voluntarism in the place of Christology. However, one need not have reached a decision on the question of whether Barth’s doctrine of God is overly determined by this modern vision of the autonomous subject to wonder if mere recourse to Barth’s Christological determination of the divine will is sufficient to settle the question. One might wonder whether Barth’s portrait of God as a self-positing being, of the trinity as an I-Thou relation, and of God’s self-determination and self-affirmation through the language of ‘decision,’ are sufficiently serviceable concepts for safeguarding Barth’s affirmation that God is utterly a se in his condescension pro nobis. A stronger version of this worry concerning the relation of Barth’s doctrine of God to modern conceptions of autonomous subjectivity, would not straightforwardly (and incorrectly) insist that Barth inserts indifferent voluntarism in the place of a willed determination to be pro nobis in Christ, but might wonder about the fittingness and serviceably of Barth’s portrait of the divine being-in-act which undergirds and explicates the Christological determination of the divine will. This should not be read as a criticism of Asbill, but a testament to the insightful and pressing questions which are raised in this impressive book. The Freedom of God for Us is an indispensable entry, not merely into discussions surrounding divine aseity, but to the wider field of studies concerning Barth’s doctrine of God, and likewise, to the most heated debates in contemporary systematic theology ‘after Barth.’

Book Review: The Demonic in the Political Thought of Eusebius of Caesarea

Today’s post features a book review by Adam Renberg, a postgraduate research student in St. Mary’s College. We are grateful to Adam for his contribution.


Johannessen, Hazel. The Demonic in the Political Thought of Eusebius of Caesarea. Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2016. Hardback. 272 pgs. $91/£71. ISBN: 9780198787242.

The Demonic in the Political Thought of Eusebius of Caesarea by Hazel Johannessen serves “to explore the ways in which Eusebius’ ideas about the demonic influenced and interacted with his thinking on a range of other subjects that comprised his political ideas” (203). Johannessen’s main emphasis focuses on correcting (in her view) the unfair assessment of Eusebius as a naïve triumphalist by arguing that Eusebius’ conception of the demonic suggests “doubts, fears, and hesitations” (16) concerning the state of the Church and the world in the Constantinian Empire.

In the first chapter, ‘Eusebius’ Works,’ Johannessen discusses the Eusebian corpus, including questions of genre, dating, and composition. She reviews the relevant debates for these issues with focus on Historia Ecclesiastica, Praeparatio Evangelica, Demonstratio Evangelica, De Laudibus Constantini, Vita Constantini, and Contra Hieroclem—the works most relevant to her study. Lastly, she considers methodology, identifying the potential pitfalls of surveying a scholar’s works and forcing them into a philosophy or theory. This chapter introduces readers to the political thought of Eusebius, arguing that he remained largely consistent, despite living in turbulent political times.

Chapter two, ‘The Nature of Demonic Threats,’ provides the foundation for Eusebius’ understanding of the demonic in its various facets. While Johannessen notes similarities with Neoplatonic conceptions of demons, especially in Porphyry, she argues that Eusebius primarily follows Origen’s conception of the demonic in a characteristically Christian cosmology. Demons, for Eusebius, are physical, present, and external beings who hate goodness and use their status above humans to lead them astray. Demonic beings (demons and Satan) led primitive humanity away from God and are likewise seeking to do so in the present age.

‘A Divided Universe,’ the next chapter of this book, sketches out Eusebius’ cosmology. Johannessen argues that his conception of the universe is “fundamentally divided between hostile spiritual opponents” (74). She notes that Eusebius speaks of angels and demons in opposites: rational vs. irrational, light vs. darkness, good vs. tyrannical. Then, she discussed Eusebius’ dualistic tendencies, emphasizing his view of the division between the spiritual and physical realms. Ultimately, she clears Eusebius of proper dualism as God maintains complete control throughout Eusebius’ oeuvre and theological system, despite his discomfort with and sidestepping of the implications of God creating and using evil. Demons, then, are a real presence who seek to deride God’s plan, but ultimately serve his purposes.

After surveying Eusebius’ cosmology, Johannessen moves onto the demonic in other facets of his thought. Chapter four, ‘Demonic Influence and Human Responsibility,’ surveys demonic influence on humankind. To do this, she discusses an important word for Eusebius’ conception of free will, προαίρεσις, which becomes the foundation for her discussion. Johannessen argues that Eusebius is positing an understanding of free will as a deliberate choice between good or evil. Demons do not impede this decision (Eusebius leaves little room for demon possession), but they do seek to deceive human beings. Johannessen then writes about the nature of moral character, noting a person’s ability to succumb to or escape from demonic influence. In other words, Johannessen traces the implications of the demonic for an individual who has changed their moral behavior, from immoral to moral and vice versa. Then, she makes certain claims about Eusebius’ soteriology founded on his conception of free will and the demonic.

Chapter five, ‘Demonic Activity and Historical Progress,’ argues that Eusebius does not see the Roman empire as the triumphal end of history, directly challenging scholarly consensus that Eusebius was a political optimist. She does this by showing how demons interacted in history before and after the incarnation. This includes demons leading people into polytheistic worship before Christ, while after the incarnation engaging in persecution and heresy. She briefly engages with Christology in this section, yet emphasizes the role of bishops as the present (intellectual) key to salvation.

The final body chapter, ‘Demonic Tyranny and Virtuous Kingship,’ discusses Eusebius’ political conceptions. Here, Johannessen examines Eusebius’ conception of virtuous kingship through the negative: by his understanding of tyrants. Johannessen argues that readers gain a stronger understanding of virtuous kingship by showing what poor kingship looks like. She discusses broader non-Eusebian conceptions of tyrants and what constitutes a ruler being labelled as such. Then, she argues these tyrants were enslaved to demons in Eusebius’ thought and therefore were unfit to rule. This unqualified rule is not based on a king’s vices but on the ruler’s relationship to demons. The following section places significant importance on μίμησις (imitation), as leaders imitated either the divine or the demonic and their subjects followed suit. A virtuous king imitates God, while tyrants imitate the devil and the demonic.

Johannessen writes succinctly and clearly, but this work contains significant shortcomings. Like many other monographs adapted from PhD theses, this book is at times redundant, overly-qualified, and oversteps the boundaries of what she is able to say about Eusebius’ thought. While focused on the demonic, she flattens other facets of Eusebius’ thought, such as soteriology and Christology, to serve her purposes. While she rightly seeks to push scholarship towards a healthier understanding of Eusebius’ political theory, she reduces the political to the demonic alone. In other words, the demonic becomes the primary source for understanding Eusebius political theory and cosmology, which neglects other aspects of his thought that are more prominent throughout his work. She also tends to read the demonic into texts that are not immediately relevant.

Johannessen succeeds at her goal to discuss facets of Eusebius’ thought in relationship to the demonic, but she places the demonic as the key to understanding Eusebius correctly. She thereby reduces broader facets of his thought into oversimplified argument which better accommodates her non-triumphalist reading of Eusebius. More positively, she evens out an area of Eusebius’ thought which was largely ignored, opening up further research and understanding of Eusebius’ theology. This monograph also provides an interesting window into Neoplatonic and Christian conceptions of angels and demons in the fourth century, containing quality word studies and insights into this turbulent time. Despite the pitfalls in Hazel Johannessen’s The Demonic in the Political Thought of Eusebius of Caesarea, the study is enjoyable, fresh, and well worth a read.

The Theology of Professor John Webster

Prof Webster. Photo courtesy of St. Mary’s College.

In this week’s post, we are grateful to offer a contribution from Dr Darren Sarisky, Tutor in Doctrine and Ministry at Wycliffe Hall in the University of Oxford. Dr Sarisky served alongside R. David Nelson and Justin Stratis as a co-editor of a festschrift in honour of Prof Webster entitled Theological Theology: Essays in Honour of John B. Webster (T. & T. Clark, 2015).

For an overview of Prof Webster’s legacy, consider starting with this official press release from St. Mary’s College and this remembrance piece from the Rev Dr Stephen R. Holmes.


Almost a year after his sudden death at age 60, I am still getting used to writing about Professor John Webster in the past tense.  Not long before he died, I had been in touch with him to see if he was interested in doing an interview with an online publication once he had completed a miniature systematic theology he was trying to finalize.  John was known to have rewritten the material several times, trying to get it right, and I was under the impression that he was nearing the point where he was happy with the text and could hand it over to the eager publisher.  I wondered if he would like doing an interview to bring some attention to this work on which he had labored for so long.  John’s response, for which I was not totally prepared, was to say he was unsure whether he would live to bring even his brief systematic theology to completion.  I was uncertain whether he was being entirely serious: would anyone really say something like that about himself except in jest?  In hindsight, I can see that he probably was serious, as he died not long after that.  He passed away before he could finish this preview of his larger theological project, and before he could complete even one volume of the multi-volume work that he had imagined as the culmination of his career.  Those of us who knew John personally cannot help but feel a sense of loss at his passing, as do those in the field of Christian systematic theology who were anticipating being able to read and ponder his presentation of Christian doctrine.

John was never one to seek the spotlight (so perhaps I should have known he would not have been keen to do an interview), and even in his death he would not want too much attention directed to him.  Ultimately, the reason John did not seek attention for himself is that he saw himself as a witness.  What is a witness?  In Karl Barth’s lectures on the prologue to John’s Gospel, entitled Witness to the Word, Barth writes the following, quoting Augustine, “‘Direct your eyes to me and your hearts to him [i.e., God].  … See, you lift your eyes and your bodily senses to us, and yet not to us …, but to the Gospel, to the Evangelist, and your heart, that is to be filled, to the Lord.’  Let us each see to the heart and whither it is lifted up.”  The witness proclaiming the Word directs his hearers’ attention to the text of the Bible, and via it, to that to which Scripture offers testimony, that is, God.  This is what it means for a theologian to be a witness, to direct the gaze of one’s audience to God as he is revealed by the biblical text.  John saw this as his role.

In this post, I want to commemorate his life by sketching out a few of the guiding principles of his theological thinking.  Though he did not live to complete the constructive project toward which his prior work had all been leading, John was so prolific in his short life that it is sufficiently clear what some of the main themes of his synthesis of Christian doctrine would have been.  With full awareness of the irony John would have seen in distilling this into a blog post, I summarize some of the key themes of his theology as follows.

First, theology must begin with God.  As John says in his address Theological Theology, borrowing from a theologian who would be virtually unknown to many of his colleagues, “For theology as Wollebius envisions it, the being of God is not simply a hypothesis into which theology inquires, but rather the reality which actively constitutes and delimits the field of theological activity.”  This ultimately means that theology must offer a depiction of who God is in himself, as the triune Lord who subsists in utter perfection and graciously reveals himself within creation.  Basing all of theology’s talk of God on the fullness and perfection of the immanent Godhead meant that John held a more traditional view of God than many of the theologians who wrote so exuberantly of the economic Trinity in the twentieth century.  For John, the immanent Trinity was by no means to be reduced to the revelation of the divine persons in the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the advent of the Holy Spirit.  Rather, that revelation was a function of the fullness of the immanent divine life itself.  John never weighed in formally and directly on the debate about the relationship between election and the Trinity that has exercised many of today’s best constructive theologians, but there was no question that he himself was not persuaded that an act of divine election constitutes God as triune.  As John saw it, because of divine aseity, God is fully himself apart from and prior to both his work in creation and even determinations made without any reference to the world.  Though John’s position was by no means unprecedented in the Christian tradition, his skill as a theologian allowed him to expound this view with insight, verve, and sparks of creativity.

Second, the final standard for what theology says about God is the testimony provided by the scriptural text.  The Bible directs its readers to the triune God and is the touchstone for whatever theologians say about him.  John’s monograph on the Bible, entitled Holy Scripture, is arguably the most important doctrinal work on Scripture since David Kelsey’s Providing Doctrine was published in 1975.  The most original part of John’s presentation is his application of the notion of sanctification, usually reserved for the domain of soteriology, to the text of the Bible, and indeed its entire process of formation prior to taking on its final canonical form.  There are many ways to make the point that the Bible is both a product of human activity and a field of divine speech, such as comparisons between the text and the two natures of Christ.  But the advantage of John’s development of sanctification is that it speaks not only of the final form of the text as one in which human authorial activity testifies to the reality of God, but of all the processes that led to the formation of the text in its received form—the editing of preexisting sources, the reliance on historical memory, and so on—as works that are both genuinely human and simultaneously actions caught up in the process by which God makes himself known.

Third, theology speaks of God, as was stated above, yet the Christian God brings contingent reality into existence with his act of creation, and thus theology must speak of God and all things as they relate to him.  In addition to depicting God in himself, theology should characterize the world sub specie divinitatis, in light of the God on whom it depends for its very existence, and toward whom it is oriented as its goal.  John derived this insight especially from Thomas Aquinas.  Though John made his mark with scholarship on Karl Barth, as he began to work quite directly toward writing his systematic theology late in his career, he tacked toward Thomas, who helped John to broaden his circle of dialogue partners beyond the Reformed tradition.  Just as John’s book on the Bible argues against a zero-sum relationship between God and created reality when it comes to saying what sort of work the Bible is, so also John’s work on creation stresses that the distinction between the transcendent God and the immanent world order is not one in which the two terms are in any tension with one another.  Creation’s dependence on the divine creator does not diminish its status, but invests it with being and orients it toward the fulfillment of that being.

Finally, the process by which human creatures come to know the God who is their creator is marked by dying to self and rising to new life in Christ.  Human beings are not spontaneous subjects, free to orient themselves according to sources of moral guidance that lie within themselves, rather than being external to them.  Instead, their choices ought to be responsive to God as he reveals himself and marks out determinatively that in which a good life consists.  This means that the dynamic of the entire Christian life will be one of letting go of lesser things and constantly reorienting oneself toward God.  This is the pattern that defines the way in which God comes to be known by rational creatures.

The above is a maximally brief listing of what would have been some of the leading themes of John’s systematic theology.  Though this text will never be written, it is possible to find anticipatory citations of it in recently published books.  That the project will never come to be is indeed a loss for the field about which John cared so deeply.  His systematics has the sad distinction, among all contemporary systematic theologies, of being the best that never was.  What Ivor Davidson wrote about John at the end of a biographical essay about him—ad multos annos (a wish that he might live many more years)—was said in vain.  John’s whole life seemed to run in fast forward.  He passed away before his time, but in his sixty years he gave all those interested in Christian theology quite a bit of food for thought.  Because of all that John was able to do in the time that he was given, we all have reason to be very thankful to him.  And so it is only fitting to close this post with an expression of gratitude for his influence on me personally as my doctoral supervisor, and for all the theological work that he produced and that we will have the opportunity to think through in the years to come.

Alfred Hitchcock and the Introduction to a Book

Dr. Carey Newman

This post is the second in a series from Dr. Carey Newman, the director of Baylor University Press. In each post, Dr. Newman offers helpful advice on the publication process for researchers who are starting their academic careers. Baylor University Press has experienced a remarkable transformation under Dr. Newman’s leadership; his efforts have received the attention of such outlets as Publisher’s Weekly. Dr. Newman is the recipient of a Ph.D. from Baylor University and a master’s degree in theology from the University of Aberdeen. He is the author of Paul’s Glory-Christology: Tradition and Rhetoric (Brill) and the editor of Jesus and the Restoration of Israel (IVP).


I am often asked about how to revise a thesis into a book.  I look blankly at my questioner and state baldly: it is not revision, it is exorcism.  You don’t revise a thesis; you turn it inside out, wash it, grind it, and reshape it.  Very, very few theses make it as books without such totalizing.  The amount of transformation needed can be best measured in voice – a thesis typically speaks in but one voice, while a book speaks in four distinct voices – that of the introduction, the prose, the notes and the conclusion.

I want to be clear and not misunderstood.  Nothing I say below should ever take precedence over what your thesis director (and any committee members) say to you about your thesis.  Job 1 is to please them, to write something that they endorse and approve.  THEN comes the consideration of a book – and only then.  The best thesis is a signed thesis.  Period.

The introduction, though, is a very good example of the difference between a thesis and a book. The introduction to a thesis, for better or worse, has been influenced by the way that research takes place on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine) side of the ledger.  The introduction becomes a kind of kitchen drawer into which is placed the review of literature, hypothesis, method, limitations, definitions, scope, implications, and even the preview the whole of the work chapter by chapter.  By contrast, a book’s introduction has but one purpose – to get a reader to read.

Introductions to books are as movie trailers are to movies.  The whole purpose of a movie trailer, beyond that of giving late movie goers time to purchase the overpriced and sized snacks, is to get the public to come back, to spend money, on the next movie.  So, too, an introduction to a book.  The introduction to a book not only performs a logical function (what is the book about? what does it argue?; it also performs a psychological (what is really at stake? why does it matter?).  Analogous to the opening to any Hitchcock thriller, the reader must want to read on because of the first few pages.

On the wall of the far wing of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel – the glorious pink colossal that anchors Wai Kiki Beach – hangs travel posters from the 20s.  Minimalistic water colors of oversized ships creeping into the harbor.  Patrons leisurely sprawled on the clean sun swept beach.  Oh my.  Standing there, looking at the posters, it is so easy to see yourself (or what you wish might have been you): a world traveler before traveling was emptied of its romance.  Luxury, tranquility, sophistication, adventure.  You are tempted to dive into that poster and willingly be transported back to another, simpler world.

THAT is the function of an introduction to a book.  It leads the potential reader to want to read on.  The introduction puts in play what is really at stake regarding the subject and helps the potential reader to see why reading on is important.  Yes, true, something must be said about scope.  True, providing guard rails for misreading is important.  But, the purpose of the introduction to a book is to get a reader to read.  The voice entices, cryptically foreshadowing what journey is to come.  There will be time and space enough to drone on about this and that, to defend, deny and assert.  But, getting the reader to read on is task enough for an introduction.