Author Archives: Rebekah Earnshaw

Turn to the Social

The Theology Research Seminar recently heard from Dr Justin Stratis of Trinity College Bristol. Dr Stratis presented ‘Modern English Trinitarianism and the Turn to the Social – Exploring the Welch Thesis’. This is part of the development of Dr Stratis upcoming volume on trinitarian theology.

Stratis contextualised his presentation by identifying the broad movement of social trinitarian thought as a catch-all term for theologies which feel that classical discussion of trinitarian processions do not say enough. However, the diversity within such a grouping means that justice must be done to many serious thinkers. Stratis briefly considered Moltmann, Boff, Zizioulas, Volf, and, within analytic theology, Plantinga and Swinburne. Social trinitarian thought is far from monolithic but commonalities may be identified such as a priority for the economy, scriptural presentations of God, persons, and perichoresis. Stratis wishes to learn from earlier developments in English trinitarian thought in order to better engage with present discussions.

Stratis draws especially from the 1952 work of Claude WelchIn This Name: The Doctrine of the Trinity in Contemporary Theology‘. Welch addresses his own context but identifies several earlier thinkers and the Hegelian soil of idealism which gives birth the the social analogy and a conception of divine society of “I”s within the trinity. Personality is the key idea trinitarianly applied by Richmond, Moberly, and Illingworth at the turn of the twentieth century.

In 1900 Richmond published on personality and the philosophy of experience. Personality is the experience of experiences so that personality enables fellowship. The conscious self-reflecting brings the self and others to reality. The self is relational. All persons are emerging personality and need affirmation of others. God is posited as the ideal and eternal prototype of social existence. Divine fellowship of loving persons guarantees and enables a transcendental ideal account of the human self.

Moberly is influenced by Richmond’s work and applies personality to atonement. Moberly begins with divine unity but rejects “hypostasis” as insufficiently personal to describe divine relations. He prefers the term “person” for its fullness and totality of meaning. Moberly draws an analogy from human experience but divine personality is complete and absolute. Experience grounds Moberly’s transcendental move and “insertion” of personality and subject-object mutuality into an older model of the trinity.

A few years later, 1907, Illingworth develops the trinity with apologetic concerns and exalts the Christian view of personality. A man of his times, Illingworth embraced Christianity as more “highly evolved” due to its developed idea of personality. Illingworth suggested that humanity knows God as it knows itself. Illingworth also suggested the family as an imperfect social analogy of the trinity with father, mother, and child. The incomplete human ideal by reason arrives at the personal triune God which is actualised in itself as a fully internal social reality. Like his predecessors Illingworth looked first to human experience and found Christianity affirmed by human experience which was “personal”. In this thinking, the church attained trinitarian ideas through moral and philosophical development.

Stratis concluded by reflecting together on early social trinitarian thinkers and contemporary approaches. This was not a claim for theological geneaology but a task of comparison. Stratis identified two points of contact.

Stratis identified that thinkers now are not driven by transcendental or apologetic moves, but rather more scriptural concerns the significance of trinitarian thought for the political and ecclesial spheres. Despite these differences Stratis argued for a formal similarity in the priority of experience and the place of history and narrative within the two forms of social trinitarianism. Both exhibit an antipathy to speculation in this regards. In contrast to these approaches Stratis suggested that the early church understood trinitarian thought as elevation rather than speculation. The trinity is a reality to be contemplated and a form to which to ascend. In Stratis’ view trinitarian theology is a move beyond what is naturally available and exceeds economic explanation.

The second formal similarity Stratis more briefly identified was the way these thinkers lean on the possibility of human analogy. In the older thought it was personality and in the new thought it is love and relationality. Stratis felt the weight of engaging individually with thinkers on these issues but also suggested that these formal similarities illustrate how trinitarian thought expresses the philosophy of its context. Therefore, assessing the presuppositions and methodologies of social trinitarian thought is a useful way forward.

The discussion ranged broadly across the prior 1900 years of church history and we eagerly anticipate the further development of Stratis’ constructive work from this analysis.

Rebekah Earnshaw

(Views expressed in this post are my own and not those of St Mary’s College.)

Formation and Interpretation

It’s three weeks until our upcoming Formation and Interpretation: Ways of Knowing and Knowledge of God conference.

Register here (£5 to cover refreshments, free for students of St Mary’s College)

We pause to meet one of our presenters Dr Tim Baylor. Tim, can you please tell us about your research?

“Much of my research focuses on Christian theologies of divine justice. I’m interested in the way that God’s justice informs our ideas about the nature of the moral life. This topic has real importance for a whole host of doctrinal questions about the character of God, the end and goal of God’s government, and the nature of God’s redeeming work. But it also has more immediately practical implications. For example, take Christian discourse in the public square. Christians routinely appeal to divine justice in support of their particular social or political visions, but they often disagree in fundamental ways about the nature of those visions. And these disagreements often stem from more basic differences in thinking about the nature of God’s justice.”

What’s your interest in “Formation and Interpretation”?

“Though my research focuses on the nature of God’s justice, one of the questions that interests me is how our moral formation actually shapes both our view God and the world. Scripture emphasises that there are some truths that we can understand only by faith and love. But if this is true, then it raises some important questions about how a sinner, a person whose love is disordered by sin, can learn to discern what is right, true, and good. This is particularly important when it comes to forming our beliefs about of God. To what degree can sinners (even redeemed sinners) have true knowledge of God, rather than simply an idol of their own making? One of the ways that the church has sought to cultivate the moral dispositions necessary for knowing God is by the imitation of Christ, and by the related discipline of meditation on the vanity of the world, sometimes referred to as the ‘contemptus mundi’ tradition. My paper will examine the reception of this spiritual tradition within a strand of Protestant practical theology. I think this will illustrate the complex relationship between Christian spiritual practice and moral reasoning. And hopefully, it will shed some light on a familiar problem, namely, the proper nature of and conditions for right moral reasoning.”

St Andrews is a beautiful place to visit anyway but why should people come and listen to you on this topic?

“Spiritual and moral formation is one of those topics where the common interest between the academy and the church is most obvious. Pastors and church leaders labour in the ministry of the Word and Sacrament in order to form the church so that it might better inhabit the gospel and offer a clearer witness to the love and faithfulness of God. And spiritual practice often grows cold and ineffective where it is not critically examined. On the other hand, in order to remain true to its subject matter, academic theology needs to be reflective about its own practices. In particular, it needs to consider whether its methods are capable of cultivating the kind of faith and love that are necessary to know God. In that respect, I think a conference on the relationship between personal formation and theological practice addresses not only a topic of considerable academic interest, but a deeply ecclesial interest as well.”

See here for details of other speakers.

Register online and direct inquiries to Rebekah Earnshaw

How did this get on my plate?

I had a feeling that a lecture entitled ‘Consuming Animal Creatures: The Ethics of Eating Animals’ was potentially going to challenge my omnivorous habits. As I mentioned in my previous post, theology should include the lived experience—recognizing that we are embodied creatures—and as embodied creatures, we will recognize that bodies are not unique to humans.

My current work is on the image of God and an argument I am finding quite compelling is that a primary consequence of being in God’s image includes Creator-honoring stewardship of the physical world. There is strong lexical support that Genesis 1:26 should even be translated, “And God said, ‘Let us make humanity in our image, according to our likeness, so that they may have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”[1] This notion of dominion is not a subjugation of non-human life to the whim of human beings. This sort of dominion is one which recognizes the shared creatureliness of all that is not-God. Such an understanding of the human’s teleological vocation does not demonize or prohibit meat consumption, but it does contextualize it in such a way so that we should ask “how is this getting to my table?”

Returning to the lecture, Professor Clough exposed the ways in which creatures are not being cared for in this way due to the mass commercialization of meat production. With deplorable conditions, genetic engineering which maximizes weight gain at accelerated speeds, and complete inattention to the animal’s experience of pain, these industries are denying this human vocation and purpose.

At the same time, when we dominate the created world in this exploitative way, we also end up hurting ourselves. Just as patriarchy also hurts men, exploitation of some creatures hurts all creatures. For instance, Clough explained that “we currently devote 78 per cent of all agricultural land to raising farmed animals, and feed more than one third of global cereal output to those animals.” On a global scale, the amount of land that is used for meat production could be used, instead, for crop production—providing healthier food to greater populations of people.

However, it’s hard to think on a “global scale” without feeling completely useless to affect any kind of change. Here I also appreciated Clough’s point that the “perfect is often the enemy of the better.” The fact of the matter is that if I tried to be a perfectly ethical consumer overnight, I would be both hungry and naked by morning. The systems of exploitation which we have enabled, even unwittingly, will take time to change and our own personal habits will take time to change as well. That’s why, upon leaving the lecture hall, I began to inquire about ethically farmed animals—farms which are concerned about animal flourishing. We have a local larder doing just this kind of thing (Balgove Larder).

So, while this lecture did challenge me, it didn’t require that I stop eating meat altogether (my inner-carnivore was relieved at this)—instead, it challenged me to a greater extent—to ask the questions “How did this get to my plate?” “How can I be a better steward of the created world?” “How should being in the image of God compel a certain ethic?” These questions are not about being politically correct, but being teleologically correct, as they include the vocation of care for all creatures, human and non-human alike.

Christa McKirland

(Views expressed in this post are my own and do not represent those of St Mary’s College.)

[1] Genesis 1:26 with interpretation by W Sibley Towner, “Clones of God: Genesis 1:26-28 and the Image of God in the Hebrew Bible,” Interpretation 59, no. 4 (October 2005): 341–56.

High steaks? On Animals Volume 2

On 22nd February, Professor David Clough visited the University of St Andrews Theology Research Seminar. Clough is Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Chester and involved with many projects, including CreatureKind which engages churches as they think about animals and Christian faith. In practical and scholarly modes, Clough has sustained his interest in the Christian theology and ethics of animals over many years. This includes a two volume project “On Animals.” Volume 1 (2012) developed Clough’s theological treatment of animals within the systematic frame of creation, redemption, and new creation. Volume 2, promised for the end of 2017, will examine the ethical implications of Clough’s position.

With his usual clarity and piercing manner, Clough presented “Consuming Animal Creatures: The Ethics of Eating Animals.” In this paper Clough defends a moderate proposal, that ethical Christian consumption of animal creatures must respect them as fellow creatures of God. He argued there are strong faith based reasons for not consuming fellow animal creatures who have not been given a chance to flourish. This paper may be found online.

Since the application, if not the proposition itself, might be considered radical Clough opened by affirming scepticism of radical positions and countered three potential defeaters of his proposal. First, he argued that mass Christian inattention to consumption of animals in the twenty-first century has resulted from rapid changes in farming processes. Intensively farmed animals are new on the table. Second, biblical declarations that all foods are clean do not make eating practices a matter of ethical indifference. Rather, our eating practices are significant for our fellowship with humans and other creatures. Third, binary distinctions between human and non-human animals are unsustainable. Neither “reason”, nor dominion are sufficient grounds to dismiss a careful, considerate, friendly, and understanding concern for animals.

Clough then presented a brief summary of his theological grounding, primarily material from On Animals: Volume 1. Creation is God’s gift of being for the sake of flourishing of all creatures and participation in divine fellowship. All of creation is good. Animals, human and non-human who share the breath of life, particularly depend on others and mutual fellowship for their flourishing. The unique mode of life of each creature is worthy of attention. In redemption the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, reconciling all things to himself through his blood shed on the cross. Redemption concerns all creation, including animal creatures. Christians await the fulfilment of peace among all creatures in new creation. All creation is made for God’s praise and as no sparrow falls to the ground without God’s care all creation will find its place in the divine life.

Clough then transitioned from this theological basis to his particular ethical question. Sin means creation is broken and conflicted but Christians are to seek the peace and flourishing of all creatures now. However, he also argued that his position is not a flat equivalence of all creation; Clough wishes to maintain distinctions (with fuzzy boundaries) between humans, animals, plants, and non-living creatures. A anthropocentric, dualistic, utilitarian consumerism is not an adequate Christian ethic for animal consumption. He brought attention to the Franciscan tradition of animal care. Promoting the flourishing of animals acknowledges the hopeful and frustrated status of the present. Humans are not powerless and needless cruelty is unchristian. Christians should attend to the significance of animal lives before God and delight in their flourishing.

Clough then moved to current practices of intensive farming. His observations were matter of fact, yet all the more confronting for that, from the production of eggs, poultry, pork, dairy products, lamb, and beef. Harm done through intensive farming practices is not compatible with the flourishing of the animal creatures. Clough painted an alternative possibility of what flourishing might look like taken from studies of pigs. The scale of cruelty may feel overwhelming but the profit driven bottom line means that even small changes in consumer behaviour have a direct effect on practices and the scale of their implementation.

Clough again defended this proposition, that there are faith based reasons for rejecting consumption of fellow animal creatures who have now been given opportunity to flourish, against a false choice between human and non-human animal welfare. Wide-spread and cheap access for humans to meat does not out-weigh the harm inflicted. Clough observed that current consumption patterns are harmful for humans on the larger scale of creation care. Nor are other ethical issues determined by the factor of cheaper access. For example, the need for safe toys and fair wages for workers counters the demand for cheap access to these products. Clough also considered the objections that Jesus was not vegetarian, predatory behaviour is “natural”, and that hospitality and human fellowship is an ethically complex field in which eating and consumption of non-human animals plays a key cultural role.

Clough concluded by suggesting that the perfect is the enemy of the better and small and moderate steps are the way forward. Clough graciously engaged with a wide range of questions: hunting and fishing practices, the nature of flourishing, a new disconnect from OT heritage on animals, further details on an alternative to a capacities distinction between human and non-human animals, and whether we might aniticipate a future volume “On Plants.”

Dr Clough was, as always, clear and piercing in his theological articulation and challenge in this area. He quipped at the start of his presentation that the “stakes” (steaks?) were high but I don’t know what was ordered when the Head of School took Dr Clough to lunch.

Rebekah Earnshaw

(Views expressed in this post are my own and not those of St Mary’s College.)

The Word, the Words and the Trinity

Dr Brandon Gallaher presented in our third week of the Theology Research Seminar for the spring semester. Dr Gallaher is a lecturer in Systematic and Comparative Theology at Exeter University. Dr Gallaher’s earlier work examined modern trinitarian theology under Paul Fiddes. He shared the early stages of a larger project which seeks an Eastern Orthodox response to plurality of religions. This arises from many years of ecumenical involvement and “looking for Jesus” in religious experiences and practices around the world. Dr Gallaher meets regularly as part of the Building Bridges Seminar.

Dr Gallaher presented under the title, “The Word, the Words and the Trinity: A Preliminary Exploration of the Relationship of Eastern Orthodoxy to World Religions.” He believes that Eastern Orthodox theology, as a minority and persecuted group for much of the twentieth century, is at least fifty years late to the ecumenical party. As such, there are limited works on inter-religious dialogue from an EO perspective. Dr Gallaher drew particular attention to Raimon Panikkar who’s most well known work in English is The Trinity and World Religions, 1973. The radical trinity which develops from theanthropocosmic-cosmotheandric experience in Panikkar’s thought is key. The Father is the source and absolute, even before being, he is found in passive surrender to annihilation and the all in all. There is a non-dual identity of I and absolute. The Son speaks and links the infinite with the finite. He is found in desire for immanent embrace and personalism. The Logos is the eternal thou, beginning and end, through all. The Spirit is immanence, union and bond, the within all. He is found in desire for incarnation and iconolatry. Veneration is the ascent to God. This radical trinity is the key for all reality so that all creaturely religious truth is an echo of this triune divine.

Dr Gallaher proposed that all religions experience Christ but in a distorted or partial manner. He argued that a providential account grounded in Christ and the Holy Spirit was necessary to undergird this claim theologically. Dr Gallaher drew on the resources of the EO tradition, particularly the Logos and the logoi to resource this. Justin Martyr and Maximus the Confessor were key to Dr Gallaher’s proposal at this point. The divine ideas/principles/intentions/wills which are unified in the Logos ground creaturely plurality in God. The tropoi can follow or distort the divine logoi, which explains why expressions of the divine amongst creaturely plurality may more or less conform to their divine pattern and end.

Dr Gallaher suggested ways in which aspects of the trinity might be seen in Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism. He claimed that religious experience specially revealed these trinitarian logoi more than materialism or secularism. He argued that because EO is less focused on salvation and exclusivism it is uniquely placed to resource inter-religious dialogue and provide a theological account of religious plurality.

Especially since Dr Gallaher’s project is in its early stages he engaged in a lively question time, including posing his own questions. D’Costa’s critique that all claims are really exclusive claims was an initial point of discussion. Another key line of discussion pursued the privileged place of religions amongst general revelation in Dr Gallaher’s proposal. Dr Gallaher argued that historically and in practice religions offer a unique expression of the divine logoi amongst creatures. It is therefore, appropriate to particularly seek trinitarian revelation through inter-religious dialogue.

Dr Gallaher offered a perspective which was new to many of the regular participants in the theology seminar who have little chance to interact with those from EO backgrounds or with those actively pursuing inter-religious dialogue. In this way Dr Gallaher provided refreshing input and sparked new thoughts. The resources of EO are indeed rich.

Rebekah Earnshaw

(The views expressed in this post are my own and do not reflect those of St Mary’s College.)

Sacramental and creaturely tradition

There is much here to which I gladly say Amen, but I am yet to rejoin the Catholic fold and so I still murmur.

Professor Lewis Ayres was clear in his stance that the best ecumenical discussions which he has pursued are engaged with strong articulations on all sides of distinctives at their most theological level. In this vein I deeply appreciate his articulation that this sacramental account depends on Christ as the sacrament and the Church as mystical body, and that tradition is a Spirit empowered human act with particular content within this ongoing sacramental and eschatological anticipatory reality. This is the basis for a magisterial tradition which contributes effectively to the salvation of souls. I can see how this follows for Ayres, but without adherence to the initial positions I’m yet to be convinced of the consequences.

This leads me to wonder if Ayres’s thought may be transposed in a Protestant key without sacramentality and without the consequent magisterium of tradition. Do Protestants have the resources for a theology of tradition, which for Ayres is a theology of theology? Professor John Webster believed that a theological account of theology was possible for him and his thought was progressing towards reflection on Christian thinking and the practice of exegetical, doctrinal, and moral reason. (In his presentation Professor Ayres twice referenced the essay he contributed to Webster’s feschrift.)

I affirm many of the theological claims which bear Ayres’s account of tradition forward. In his incarnation, thanks to the hypostatic union and empowering by the Spirit, Christ reveals the Father in a way that no other creature may. The salvation won by Christ brings his people, through the blessing of adoption in the Spirit, into a fellowship which mirrors the perfect triune fellowship of Father, Son, and Spirit. The Church embodies an eschatological reality before the nations. The Church participates in a Spirit overseen history in which we wait. The Scriptures call for focused theological attention as the constant referrant by which the living Christ speaks to his Church. Christian thinking, even critical reflection on Scripture, is unfruitful when severed from the ministry of the Spirit and the embodied history of and practices of discernment within the Church in which the Spirit has overseen for generations past.

This leads me to ponder how much work “sacramental” is doing in Ayres’s proposal. My protestant ears heard this meaning an “embodied and lively social and temporal reality overseen by the Spirit” but I fear I have missed a far richer and deeper reality being alluded to. Nonetheless, I wonder if tradition may be characterised as an “embodied and lively social and temporal reality overseen by the Spirit” which is distinctively creaturely (without sacramental nuances) and this remain at all satisfying. (I highly respect Professor Ayres and humbly wonder out loud in what follows.)

Ayres guards his sacramental account from distortion by appealing to the qualifiers: mystery & act and unity & eschatology. For me, the Creator-creature relation is fundamental even here. Creatures acting in a properly creaturely mode retains robust double agency and the inexhaustible mystery of divine action as being itself remains gift. The spatial and temporal finitude of creatures means they find themselves in relation, first with their Creator, and then with each other, in a mode of embodied communal history and practice, which for rational creatures includes the practices of Christian intellect and will. Unity of the Church is thence spiritual union with their Head awaiting eschatological consummation, without this compromising or altering her being as creature. Further, I retain a hesitance to characterise creaturely reality, even new creation reality in the Church, as first and foremost sacramental. I’m very open to being challenged at this point, but at present my concern for “the Christian distinction” remains too strong.

Therefore, I wonder if some of the labour, for which Ayres reaches to sacrament, might be accomplished by creatureliness and indeed new creation creatureliness. Perhaps I might call for historical dogmatic rigour which is not philosophically or hermeneutically naïve based on the ongoing creaturely reality of the Church. A strong sense of the providentially Spirit guided Church might result in a firm but ministerially role for tradition. The properly creaturely Church might nurture spiritual discernment and practices of Christian thinking with rigour in the present while also aware of her past and her future. The creature’s awareness of her dependence on the Creator, the depths of sin, the fullness of salvation, the ongoing ministry of the Spirit, the embodied history of the Church, the hope of life to come, might lead to refreshed discipline in the practices of intellectual humility, generosity, and patience, as Christian thought attends to Dei Verbum.

Rebekah Earnshaw

(Views expressed in this post are my own and not those of St. Mary’s College.)

…Totius Traditionis Mirabile Sacramentum

For the second meeting of its spring semester, the St Andrews theology research seminar was privileged to welcome Professor Lewis Ayres. He is Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology at Durham University and kindly made the trip north of the border. Professor Ayres is an authority on trinitarian theology in patristic and modern thought as well as Augustine; his books Augustine and the Trinity and Nicaea and its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth Century Trinitarian Theology will be known to many.

Ayres presented a paper which forms part of a larger project investigating theologically the nature and practice of theology. This paper was previously presented to the Ad Limina Apostolorum conference in Washington, DC, which invited responses to the documents of Vatican II. In his paper Ayres addressed the question of how Dei Verbum might serve the task of theology and Christian unity. His paper is titled ‘…Totius Traditionis Mirabile Sacramentum: Toward a Theology of Tradition in the light of Dei Verbum’ and responded most directly to the conclusion of Dei Verbum’s second chapter.

It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.

After preliminary remarks concerning historical context and his method of reading the council, Ayres sought a theological foundation for how tradition might ‘contribute effectively’. He argued that this may be found by primarily considering tradition as the act of “handing on” and framing this within Church as sacrament, which is itself grounded in Christ as the sacrament. Tradition is therefore a fundamentally theological act rooted in both Christology and Trinitarian theology.

Ayres’s sacramental understanding of salvation and the whole of the divine economy is vital to his argument. The hypostatic union means salvation is intrinsically sacramental and the need for visible and bodily encounter does not cease with the ascension and sending of the Spirit. The Church is a sacramental reality and Christ’s mystical body. The visible society of the Church is a sign for the nations of eschatological reality. Ayres disciplined his sacramental position by noting the ongoing mystery and divine action in the Church, as well as the reality of unity of the Church which foreshadows the eschatological reality: ‘the Church in via has both a beautiful and a tragic guise’. Tradition is the sacramental practice of the waiting Church, which is accompanied by spiritual discernment and guidance.

Ayres finds this sacramental perspective generative for considering how “handing on” may contribute to the salvation of souls. As act, this “handing on” is an embodied and lively social and temporal reality overseen by the Spirit within the sacramental time of the Church. (Ayres takes his lead from the trajectory of Möhler, Newman, Blondel, and Congar.) At significant moments of “handing on” the Spirit works in sacred history to empower and quicken human intellect and will so that they ‘are gradually better ordered to their true end’. The Church learns to think in light of revelation by faith and thus the City of God is built.

Ayres contests that “handing on” is theologically essential to the sacramental Church. Interpretation, imagination, and speculation are unavoidable for Christian thinking this side of eternal bliss. Discernment and formation of tradition is the action that Spirit formed Christian thinking takes. This demands careful theological attention without simplistic reduction of complexity or claims of “having arrived”. Ayres maintains a robust account of double agency with appropriate measures of prayerful confidence and penitant humility. Under his sacramental theology of “handing on” Ayres advocates robust historical investigation under the auspices of the Spirit.

Ayres concludes by considering the place of Scripture in this sacramental economy and returns to Dei Verbum explicitly at this point. For Ayres, Scripture’s status in the Church depends on a strong account of tradition. Christ remains the bedrock of revelation. The living Lord continues to speak in manifold ways, with Scripture as the constant referrant for the Church’s attention.

Ayres’s account is compelling as it seeks a theological account of the practice of Christian thinking. Ayres considers a broad dogmatic basis in Trinitarian theology and Christology but also drawing on Pneumatology, Sacramentology, Ecclesiology, Salvation, Eschatology, and Anthropology. The result challenges an unmoored exaltation of Christian thinking, even thinking which critically reflects on Scripture, apart from the life of the Church. Ayres contextualises individual present insight within the theological context of the convenant fellowship of God’s people from Beginning to End.

The discussion after the paper pursued how this proposal might respond to weaknesses within the tradition and tragic elements during the period of waiting. Ayres also filled out how this theology of theology differs from reception and sentire cum ecclesia. Further, he admonished us to be more philosophically and hermeneutically astute in the dogmatic historical task.

I eagerly anticipate the longer volume of which this thought is a small piece and thank Professor Ayres for the moment of “handing on” he shared with us.

Rebekah Earnshaw

(Views expressed in this post are my own and not those of St. Mary’s College.)

The Safety of Abstraction

As much as I was engaged by the content of Dr. Alistair McFadyen’s seminar, I was even more engaged by his method of embodied reflection. As both a theologian and a police officer, he is uniquely situated to discuss “Loving our Enemies,” such that his experiences mold his theology and his theology molds his lived experience. This dialectic seems to strengthen both his ability to think in a way that humanizes others and to act in a humanizing way. When he thinks abstractly about how to treat someone who wants to do him bodily harm, the mettle of that abstraction is testable. Theology should be able to pass through the crucible of experience—not that experience should determine theology—but a theological paradigm which cannot be lived seems to be a valid criterion for revisiting its coherence.

Though I am only in my first year in my Ph.D., I can already feel my tendencies to relegate the experiential to the category of “irrelevant” and to try to pursue some “objective” truth. The problem is: I’m embodied. I live among the embodied. And, my theology is predicated on the embodiment of a certain Person a couple thousand years ago (who called himself the “truth,” oddly enough). This radical condescension dignified the human person and the human body in a fresh way. Not only that, but Jesus physically moved among the discarded, the tainted, and the unclean. What do we see him doing? Touching them. Healing them. Teaching them. Dignifying them. He perfectly united his theology about the Kingdom of Heaven with his embodied experience. Ultimately, this unification cost him his life in the radical expression of loving his enemies.

While I’m studying here I hope to do solid theoretical work, but I also hope that I am not lulled into the safety of abstraction. I want my final project to bear the tiny fingerprints of my little girl, to echo of the voices of my friends who have been alienated by some theologies, and to advocate for those disadvantaged both near and far. I want an embodied theology—and I want this to simply be Theology.

Christa L. McKirland

(Views expressed in this post are my own and not those of St. Mary’s College.)

On Having Enemies

Our first Theology Research Seminar of 2017 welcomed Dr Alistair McFadyen, Senior Lecturer in Theology, University of Leeds, and author of Bound to Sin: Abuse, Holocaust and the Christian Doctrine of Sin. Dr McFadyen spoke on the topic, described as “cheerful” by a faculty member, of “On Having Enemies: Terror, Torture, Theology & Policing.” McFadyen brought humility, humour, and a practical edge to bear on our theological conversation. At one point he described the cross as “pretty awful” and at many points he reflected on the implications of our discussion when exercising his role as a police officer in West Yorkshire. It was a thought provoking and engaging morning.

McFadyen’s paper responded to the lack of theological literature on the topics of terror and torture. More particularly, based on the few works which are available, he observed the absence of any talk of enmity. McFadyen noted that the public imagination is often engaged by narratives which dehumanise or demonise the other. In response to fear and hate, as well as both perceived and real enmity, the voice of resistance seeks to put “us” in the picture and overcome polarising dichotomies. The counter-narrative advocates for the vulnerable, promotes protective love and solidarity, and erases all enemies. All are victims.

Wrestling with strong reverberations of “love thy enemy,” McFadyen sought to overcome the assumption that love is the antithesis of enmity and that loving means denying the presence of all enmity or erasure of all enmity. Rather McFadyen asked, “How should Christians have enemies?” and “How might love qualify a relationship with an enemy?” He rebuked a “zero sum” avoidance of having enemies in favour of pursuing the humanisation of enemies. He advocated for a Christian practice of enmity shaped by love which resists harm and creates space for worship. For McFadyen the social good of the kingdom is a far larger vision than absence of torture. The practice of such loving enmity is complex and requires an understanding of human motives, accepting responsibility, and confession on all sides.

Following his presentation, McFadyen engaged with our questions. He offered clarifications and many examples of his practical “cop friendly” approach. The discussion ranged from the cross to human rights, from domestic violence to the vision of the kingdom, from sacrifice in popular discourse to abuse as impairment of worship. McFadyen modelled his approach to “ministerial theology” and his refusal to compartmentalise theology from the reality of life.

Overall, McFadyen presented a fruitful proposal with great scope for further exploration both in terms of his larger theological framework and its application. At a time where the narrative of fear and dehumanisation shouts loudly, today is the day to richly and theologically understand (and act on) Christ’s call to “love thy enemy.”

Rebekah Earnshaw
(Views expressed in this post are my own and not those of St. Mary’s College.)