Christian Philosophical Theology by Stephen T. Davis. Pp. vi, 312, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006, £50, $95, €79.34. Theological Reflection: Methods by Elaine Graham, Heather Walton, Frances Ward. Pp. vi, 247, London, SCM Press, 2005, £19.99, $29.99, €31.39.
Article first published online: 29 NOV 2013
© 2013 Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered
The Heythrop Journal
Volume 55, Issue 1, pages 153–155, January 2014
How to Cite
Brazier, P. (2014), Christian Philosophical Theology by Stephen T. Davis. Pp. vi, 312, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006, £50, $95, €79.34. Theological Reflection: Methods by Elaine Graham, Heather Walton, Frances Ward. Pp. vi, 247, London, SCM Press, 2005, £19.99, $29.99, €31.39. The Heythrop Journal, 55: 153–155. doi: 10.1111/heyj.12064_35
- Issue published online: 29 NOV 2013
- Article first published online: 29 NOV 2013
Davis’ book is a Christian philosopher's discourse on various aspects of theology: belief, theistic ontology, Trinity, Christology, resurrection, Jesus, redemption; however, this is not a work of systematic theology. Culled from a lifetime's experience and reflection as a trained philosopher and committed Reformed Christian, Christian Philosophical Theology presents a strongly argued and coherent Christian Weltanschauung. As incisive and assertive as his works co-written with Daniel Kendal SJ and Gerald O'Collins SJ, Davis (eminent philosopher of religion, Professor of Philosophy, Claremont McKenna College, California) explains that this volume revolves around certain crucial questions which chart the logic of his argument. In part one entitled ‘Why Believe? God & Belief in God’ (p. 7–78), Davis initially asks why from a theological perspective there is so much scepticism (‘Religious Belief and Unbelief’, p. 9f); Davis then examines the generic cosmological argument, as he terms it (‘The Epistemic Status of Belief in God’, p. 24f), followed by an examination of ‘God, Creation, and Revelation’ through the concept of divine sovereignty (p. 37f), which leads into Davis’ approach to a social theory of the Trinity – ‘Perichoretic Monotheism’ as he terms it (p. 90f). In Part two – entitled, ‘Why Believe in Jesus? Resurrection & Incarnation’ (p. 79–192) – he probes various aspects of Christology by opening with ‘Why the Historical Jesus Matters’ (p. 81f), which inevitably appraises a two-hundred year old question; ‘Jesus Christ: Saviour or Guru?’ (p. 96) explains what Christian theology has to say about Christ as distinct from the claims of other religions; ‘Was Jesus Raised Bodily?’ (p. 111) and ‘Seeing the Risen Jesus’ (p. 129), “deal with different aspects of the vital Christian claim that Jesus Christ really and truly died, and then was really and truly brought back to life by God. They ask – and try to answer – the question why we should believe that this is so”; Davis then deals with a central philosophical question, which, it may be considered, grounded the work of CS Lewis, ‘Was Jesus Mad, Bad, or God?’ (p. 149); which leads to a Christological explanation of the self-emptying of God: ‘Is Kenotic Christology Orthodox?’ (p. 172f). Part three focuses on the Christian understanding of sin and redemption – ‘How Are We Saved?’ (p. 193–261) – by examining initially the strengths and weaknesses, from the perspective of natural theology, of two systems of salvation – ‘Karma or Grace?’ (p. 195f); Davis then examines, ‘The Wrath of God and the Blood of Christ’ (p. 212) followed by Christian notions of ‘Bodily Redemption’ (p. 226) and ‘The Resurrection of the Dead’ (p. 240). Part four, which is in effect a conclusion, entitled ‘How to do Theology? Theological Method’ (p. 263–298), asks how Christian theology ought to be done. Initially Davis examines the relationship between the two sources of Christian theological authority: ‘Scripture, Tradition, and Theological Authority’ (p. 265) where although Davis shows considerable respect for the Roman Catholic emphasis on tradition, he stresses the Protestant principle of sola scriptura; therefore finally looking at the question of biblical authority: ‘The Bible Is True’ (p. 284). There is a strong presence of the incisive philosophical method of CS Lewis – whom Davis openly acknowledges in this work. This is most noticeable in Davis’ aim to write a ‘merely’ or generically Christian work. For example, in chapter 9 where Davis analyzes the apologetic trilemma argument most often attributed to CS Lewis and widely dismissed by liberal theologians and modern philosophers, the argument that Jesus was either mad, bad, or he was what he said he was: ‘that he was nonetheless truly divine is the controversial point … we will see whether that point can be not just claimed (on the basis of revelation) but argued for’ (p. 149). Davis sets forth an analytical qualified defence of the argument worthy of Lewis, concluding that it constitutes ‘a powerful piece of Christian apologetics’ (p. 171). Davis’ work is a worthy introduction to Christian philosophical theology, which demonstrates the intellectual rigour of Christian claims, and would make excellent reading for theology and philosophy students – for that matter many theologians could do with being exposed to Davis’ penetrating, perceptive and insightful defence of orthodoxy.
By comparison Elaine Graham, Heather Walton and Frances Ward in Theological Reflection: Methods (the first of a two-volume project aimed at postgraduates and professional theologians, the second volume due in 2007 is to be a volume of the primary texts referred to in the first volume) present a comprehensive, as they term it, collection of models of ways of doing theological reflection (a phrase which has gained in usage over the last twenty years or so, theological reflection being defined as talk about God in the context of Practical and/or Pastoral Theology); however, this is not theological method, per se, neither is this an analysis of systematic theological methodology. The authors claim that a sizeable literature has gown in theological reflection for Pastoral-Practical theology but that there is very little understanding of methodology. The aim of this volume would appear to be to present seven differing (and sometimes contradictory) models of theological method to apply to reflection about God, which can be considered as methodology for Practical-Pastoral Theology. Again, this is not systematic theology and appears to be ambivalent as to whether there are universal truths to Christian doctrine – theological reflection essentially being restricted temporally and geographically to the West in the later part of the twentieth-century. However, this not withstanding, the ‘overarching objective … has been to return people to the primary sources; to the writers and movements, both historical and contemporary, that continue to inspire and stimulate theological reflection. If we succeed in rekindling interest in some of the great theologians of the past, and of awakening new interest in what impelled them to write, speak and act as they did, then we will be content.’ (p. 16). So what does this volume submit as the seven relevant models for theological reflection? First, ‘Theology by Heart, The Living Human Document’ (p. 18f): God experienced as immanent and personal, intimate – human experience and religious emotionalism are to be considered as the ground for theological reflection (Schleiermacher is a key figure here). Second, ‘Speaking in Parables, Constructive Narrative Theology’ (p. 47f): that is, the authority of Scripture augmented and challenged by the voices of alternative experiences. Third, ‘Telling God's Story, Canonical Narrative Theology’ (p. 78f): where the authoritative canon of scripture shapes Christian identity around God's own story as found in the biblical narrative, here the world is seen as standing in judgement from/under God's revelation (Barth is the key figure here). Fourth, ‘Writing the Body of Christ, Corporate Theological Reflection’ (p. 109f): that is, corporate identity and/or self understanding seen in the body of Christ as the ground for theological reflection, here the community of faith generates theological language whether rules for pastoral discipline or liturgical metaphors that lead to self-understanding and is the ground for talk about God. Fifth, ‘Speaking of God in Public, Correlation’ (p. 138f): the conversation/correlation between Christian revelation and culture (for example, human reason – scientific, artistic, socio-economic – is seen here as the vehicle for divine disclosure). Sixth, ‘Theology-in-Action, Praxis’ (p. 170f): that is, discipleship, love-in-action, God as active in history, moving creation towards redemption (solidarity with the suffering of the world is key here). Finally, seventh, ‘Theology in the Vernacular, Local Theologies’ (p. 200f): cultural differences, historical or geographical, provide the ground for theological reflection. The work concludes with an impressive bibliography and index (elements often overlooked in a work such as this). Each chapter/essay adopts a similar structure and format by presenting initially the method in outline followed by an introduction; reflections from history are then considered with a description of how the method was/is realized according to the authors’ perceptions; this is concluded by a critical evaluation and a short annotated bibliography. In effect this is a recontextualizing of the history of Christian doctrine, but without an awareness of historical methodology (a post-modernist relativity unaware of the ground of one's standpoint?). Each chapter forms a sketch (Barth's whole enterprise and methodology – and the other dialectical theologians – in just under thirty pages!). Does this volume live up to its claim – does it give clergy/ministers, post-graduates, lectures in pastoral-practical theology, a comprehensive introduction to a range of theological methods relevant to so-called theological reflection? In conjunction with the companion volume of primary source texts due in 2007, and with the emphasis on ‘introduction’, then a cautious ‘yes’; the approach is well-balanced, though probably too light weight for the asserted post-graduate and lecturer readership.