Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Anglican Studies (full-time) 7.2: Theologies of reconciliation

“When you are offering your gift at the altar ... first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” The Cross of Nails on the altar in the ruins at Coventry symbolises the Ministry of Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute

MTh Year II

EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Tuesdays: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., The Hartin Room.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013, 3 p.m.:

Anglican Studies (7.2):
An introduction to three theologians and reconciliation: Miroslav Volf, Robert Schreiter and John de Gruchy


1, Miroslav Volf: Exclusion and Embrace

Professor Miroslav Volf … making connections between Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Justice

Professor Miroslav Volf, who now lives in Guilford, Connecticut, is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale University Divinity School, Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, which focuses on work-place spirituality, and a former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, in Pasadena, California.

Dr Miroslav Volf has been a member in both the Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Evangelical Church in Croatia. He is widely known for his works on systematic theology, ethics, conflict resolution and peace-making. Recently he contributed the essay, “Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Justice,” to a new text on the atonement, Stricken by God? Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ.

Miroslav Volf was born in Zagreb in Croatia in 1956, and studied at Evangelical-Theological Faculty, Zagreb (BA), Fuller Theological Seminary (MA), and the University of Tubingen (Dr Theol, Dr Theol habil), where he studied under Jürgen Moltmann.

His book Exclusion and Embrace (1996) was selected as one the 100 “Books of the [20th] Century” by Christianity Today.

In Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (2005) – which was nominated as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book in 2006 – Miroslav Volf explores how we can be transformed by the God who gives abundantly and who forgives unconditionally.

We are at our human best when we give and forgive, he says. But we live in a world in which it makes little sense to do either one.

In our increasingly graceless culture, he asks, where can we find the motivation to give? And how do we learn to forgive when forgiving seems counter-intuitive or even futile?

Free of Charge explores these questions – and the further questions to which they give rise – in the light of God’s generosity and Christ’s sacrifice for us.

Miroslav Volf draws from popular culture as well as from a wealth of literary and theological sources, weaving his rich reflections around the sturdy frame of Saint Paul’s vision of God’s grace and Luther’s interpretation of that vision. Blending the best of theology and spirituality, he encourages us to echo in our own lives God’s generous giving and forgiving.

A fresh examination of two practices at the heart of the Christian faith – giving and forgiving – this book is at the same time an introduction to Christianity. Even more, it is a compelling invitation to Christian faith as a way of life.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has said of him: “Miroslav Volf, one of the most celebrated theologians of our day, offers us a unique interweaving of intense reflection, vivid and painfully personal stories and sheer celebration of the giving God ... I cannot remember having read a better account of what it means to say that Jesus suffered for us in our place.”

Two quotes from Miroslav Volf:

“Because the Christian God is not a lonely God, but rather a communion of three persons, faith leads human beings into the divine communio. One cannot, however, have a self-enclosed communion with the Triune God – a ‘foursome,’ as it were – for the Christian God is not a private deity. Communion with this God is at once also communion with those others who have entrusted themselves in faith to the same God. Hence one and the same act of faith places a person into a new relationship both with God and with all others who stand in communion with God.” (After our Likeness – the Church as the Image of the Trinity)

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans and myself from the community of sinners.”

Some books by Miroslav Volf:

The Sun Is Not Afraid of the Darkness (Theological Meditations on the Poetry of Aleksa Santic) (1986).
Work in the Spirit. Toward a Theology of Work (1991).
The Future of Theology. Essays in Honour of Jürgen Moltmann (ed. with T. Kucharz and C. Krieg) (1996)
Exclusion and Embrace. A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (1996).
A Spacious Heart. Essays on Identity and Belonging (with Judith M. Gundry-Volf) (1997).
A Passion for God’s Reign. Theology, Christian Learning, and the Christian Self (ed.) (1998).
After Our Likeness: The Church As The Image Of The Trinity (1998).
Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (2005) – the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book 2006.
The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (2006).
Against the Tide: Love in a Time of Petty Dreams and Persisting Enmities (2009).
Captive to the Word of God: Engaging the Scriptures for Contemporary Theological Reflection (2010).
Allah: A Christian Response (2011).
A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (2011).

2, Robert Schreiter: beginning with the questions people ask

Professor Robert Schreiter … reminds us that we are “always born in some cultural context”

Professor Robert Schreiter is Professor of Theology at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. For 12 years he served as theological consultant to Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella organisation for 162 relief and development agencies in the Roman Catholic Church, for its programmes in reconciliation and peace-building. He has worked with groups in many countries on these topics.

In Robert Schreiter’s view, contemporary pluralism presents a “multiplicity of new pastoral and theological problems unprecedented in Christian history.” In Constructing Local Theologies, he discusses some of the unique challenges that arise in a variety of forms, such as asking new questions in differing cultural contexts, questions that have an impact on even the most routine issues of church life that we often taken for granted in the West:

“Indeed, so many new questions were emerging that the credibility of existing forms of theology was weakened. For example, questions about the eucharistic elements: How was one to celebrate the Eucharist in countries that were Muslim theocracies and forbade the production of importation of fermented beverages? What was one to do in those cultures where bread products such as bread were not known, in which the unconsecrated bread itself became a magical object because of its foreignness? Or how was one to celebrate baptism among the Masai in East Africa, where to pour water on the head of a woman was to curse her with infertility? How was one to understand Vatican Council II's opening to non-Christian religions in countries in southern Asia where Christianity seemed destined to remain a minority religion?”

In order to address these questions in ways that are theologically and culturally responsible, Dr Schreiter suggests that we need to develop local theologies. He defines this as a form of theology that “begins with the needs of a people in a concrete place, and from there moves to the traditions of faith,” and that involves a “dynamic interaction among Gospel, Church, and culture.”

Dr Schreiter sees this starting place with culture as a strength, as it begins “with the questions that the people themselves have” rather than the concerns of the church that often result in a theology and ecclesiology disconnected from local cultures.

As Dr Schreiter develops his thesis he not only defines local theology, but also includes a discussion of mapping local theologies, the need to understand local cultures (where he includes an emphasis on listening), as well as a consideration of the context of theology as church tradition interacts with local theological perspectives.

In discussing this last topic, he includes a helpful reminder that our perspectives for understanding are strongly influenced by culture, including church tradition in its forms and formulations. He reminds us that in spite of our assumptions they are not supra-cultural and are “always born in some cultural context.”

With this insight we are reminded that “the great theologies of East and West have drawn upon philosophical systems elaborated in their respective cultures to frame their questions and their answers.”

Robert Schreiter’s books include:

Constructing Local Theologies (1985).
Reconciliation: Mission and Ministry in a Changing Social Order (1992).
The Ministry of Reconciliation: Spirituality and Strategies (1998).

3, John de Gruchy: Transforming Traditions

Professor John de Gruchy … what does it mean to be a believer, to practice Christian faith, now?

Professor John de Gruchy is Emeritus Robert Selby Taylor Professor of Christian Studies at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and heads the Research Institute on Christianity in South Africa.

For many years, he has been at the forefront as a religious leader and theologian in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. He is also an ordained minister of the United Congregational Church of South Africa, and the author of numerous books, including: Reconciliation: Restoring Justice; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Witness to Jesus Christ and his most recent book, Confessions of a Christian Humanist.

John de Gruchy has also been the co-founder of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Cape Town, the founding editor of the Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, and he is an internationally respected Bonhoeffer scholar.

He is currently leading a research project, “Transforming Traditions,” which situates moments in the history of Christianity within the debates on social transformation in South Africa.

As a young student, he was influenced by the biography of Albert Luthuli, Let my people go, the work of Dr Beyers Naudé of the Christian Institute, and the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Tradition, John de Gruchy says, is both outside us and given to us. Tradition shapes our Christian identity. But tradition is also dynamic and is constantly rediscovering itself. The new always grows out of the old. Tradition constantly seeks after new wineskins. This is an outworking of the Johannine idea that the Spirit is the guide into truth.

Tradition – and traditions – grow organically in continuity with the past. But they are also contested in the present, and especially contested within the Church. Traditions as “continuities of conflict,” and Christians are participants in historic debates.

But, he says, we also negotiate the boundaries of tradition by engaging with those outside the broad Christian tradition as conversation partners. These might include academic critics of Christianity, but theology is not simply a dialogue within the academy, nor is it a conversation about written texts alone. The locus for theological reflection and Christian conversation is the contemporary world.

For John de Gruchy, theology is faith in action. South African theology has a catholic, or universal scope, but also speaks from a particular context. So it attends to the word, “today.”

What does it mean to be a believer, to practice Christian faith, now?

The two major theological statements produced by South African theologians during the anti-apartheid struggle were the Belhar Confession and the Kairos Document.

The Kairos Document led in 1989 to The Road to Damascus, a call for repentance from theologians in the global South to Christians in the wealthy North.

These documents signalled a contextual theology that reflected on Christian faith by social location (black, feminist, African) as well as by received tradition (Catholic, Reformed, Pentecostal). South African feminist, black and African theologies are now part of the great stream of Christian tradition.

They are now also part of the contestation of tradition, and are subject to the dangers of conservatism. So the theological task is to discern what de Gruchy calls their “transforming trajectories” for the present situation.

When Christians think of change, we usually understand it as metanoia, of becoming something other, but also becoming closer to God. But change itself is not, of itself, good. Change can be both good and bad.

As Bonhoeffer wrote from prison to his friend, Eberhard Bethge, metanoia means “sharing God’s sufferings in the world. Thus one becomes a human being, a Christian.”

John de Gruchy lists six affirmations towards a new, Christian humanism:

1, Christian humanism is inclusive. “Being human” names our primary identity.
2, Christian humanism affirms dignity and responsibility.
3, Christian humanism is open to insights into our common human condition wherever it is to be found.
4, Christian humanism claims that the love of God is inseparable from the love of others.
5, Christian humanism heralds a justice that transcends material and sectional well-being.
6, Christian humanism insists that goodness, truth and beauty are inseparable.

John de Gruchy’s books include:

The Church struggle in South Africa (1979/1986).
Apartheid is a Heresy (ed, with Charles Villa-Vicencio) (1983).
Bonhoeffer and South African Theology in Dialogue (1984).
Cry Justice (1985).
Theology and Ministry in Context and Crisis: a South African Perspective (1987)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Witness to Jesus Christ (1987/1988)
Liberating Reformed Theology (1991)
Christianity, Art and Transformation
Christianity and Democracy: Theology for a Just World Order (1995).
Reconciliation: Restoring Justice (2002).
Confessions of a Christian Humanist (2006).
On Being Human (Fortress, 2007).
Christianity and the Modernisation of South Africa (2009).

Next Tuesday, 12 March 2013:

8.1: The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and the emergence of an Anglican Covenant.

8.2: Anglican responses to the Missio Dei: Scripture, Worship and Communion as defining themes in contemporary Anglican self-understanding.

Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These three profiles were prepared as introductory notes for a seminar in the MTh course on Tuesday 5 March 2013.

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