Colin E. Gunton

Colin E. Gunton

The truth of the God of Jesus Christ is its own reward. Communication of that truth makes for joy and a life well-lived – a second reward. Colin Gunton taught me this.

Colin Gunton showed that the doctrine of God is not only about the truth of God. It also secures our own identity, our worth and our responsible freedom as children of God. The temptation to aspire to something we mistakenly identify as greater than created humanity makes us less than human. The truth that we are not God, but creatures of God – the doctrine of creation – is the really great gift of the Christian faith to the world. This is why Gunton focused on these two doctrines: God and creation.

Gunton taught that we creatures are able to know God because the Holy Spirit enables us to confess Jesus, who confesses God the Father. Often quoting Irenaeus to say that the Son and the Spirit are the two hands of the Father, Gunton showed that the doctrine of the Trinity provides us with a doctrine of mediation – God himself is not only the (christological) content but the (pneumatological) medium and bearer of that content. He argued that God is now at work making possible not only our worship and knowledge of him, but also our recognition of one another. God is the means by which I may see you for who you are, and let you become what God intends you to be – a unique and particular person.

In the years Colin Gunton taught systematic theology at Kings College, London, worldwide interest in trinitarian theology grew dramatically. Postgraduates would come to Colin to study Barth and other heroes of the Reformed tradition, but with him they also discovered the Church Fathers and learned how to think across the whole Christian dogmatic tradition.

In the weekly seminar, Colin hosted an intense encounter of ideas. With the first-timers he always wrestled through the issues again and found better ways to frame them, forever expressing delight in the richness of the Christian tradition. We would arrive with the patronizing assumption that we moderns have discovered crises of previously unknown complexity, but in seminar after seminar Colin would enable us to see that such self-consciously ‘modern’ theology was self-deluding. It is much more likely that we have to catch up with the intellectual rigor of previous generations of Christian thinkers. The result was not only Gunton’s powerful written work, but students who could think for themselves precisely because they could faithfully listen to what many generations of Christians had been saying. We who knew Colin Gunton are grateful to God for him.

Sacrifice in the Old Testament 1

The Eschatological Economy

In The Eschatological Economy I wanted to show that when we talk about sacrifice, in the bible or in ancient pagan world, the first question we have to ask is whose sacrifice? Do we mean Israel’s, or the sacrifices of other nations? The difference between sacrifice in Israel, and sacrifice in the rest of the (pagan) world is the difference between the true God the false gods. Failure to make this distinction confuses everything said about the topic of sacrifice.

I argued that, for Israel, the decisive point about a sacrifice was not that something was killed, but that something was presented – to God and to his people. Sacrifice was a public act so the animal admitted to the temple is a public demonstration that Israel, and the individual Israelite, is admitted by God.

It was also a double act. The sacrifice is coming from God to Israel, and from Israel to God in thanks and recognition of God’s initial gift. God gave Israel gifts and he did so publicly, before the watching world – Thou hast prepared a table for me before the face of mine enemies… (Psalm 23). So sacrifice serves to sustain the relationship of the people with their God, and to show Israel and the gentile world beyond, what that relationship was.

You can find out more about The Eschatological Economy at Amazon.com or at Amazon.co.uk or at Eerdmans

Coming up on DK

Mihail Neamtu  Lincoln Harvey  Alan Brown

My picture shows the Orthodox are doing all the talking and the Anglicans all the listening.

Let me remind you of the theologians whose work I have been posting (find them in the ‘Contemporaries’ section) –

Christopher Seitz, Ephraim Radner, Oliver O’Donovan, Augustine DiNoia, R.R. Reno, Reinhard Hütter, Douglas Farrow, Oswald Bayer, Gavin D’Costa, Stephen Long, TF Torrance, along with the others whose books are displayed in the ads on this blog – Robert Wilken, Robert Jenson and John Webster.

People always ask about books to read, and in the case of diploma students and undergraduates just starting out on this subject I don’t know what to suggest. I have make lists of books for students and lost them again. You can see my latest efforts to compile book lists on my Amazon page – please make suggestions, or alternative lists. Anybody can get an Amazon page, by the way, just by posting a book review.

But after teaching Anglican ordinands – always the most lost on the subject of the Christian faith – it occurred to me that there are no good introductions to Christian theology. So I have decided to write one – it is called The Apprenticeship. I did promise you that I would post pieces for this as I went along, and I really must make more effort on this.

Coming up on the DK blog:

Servais Pinckaers, George Weigel, Benedict XVI and the whole mountain of John Paul II’s papal teaching – Fides et Ratio, Veritatis Splendor, Evangelium Vitae, Ut Unum Sint. And we should have a look at the Catechism and Compendium. You are not Catholic? Neither am I, but when your neighbour comes up with a good idea, don’t you ‘borrow’ it?

More on the issues of Christology, sacrifice, atonement, Israel and the Old Testament, supersessionism, history and modernity – and on why I wrote The Eschatological Economy.

Colin Gunton

Matthew Baker on reasonable worship and Christ our great high priest (Matthew has very kindly started to take my education in hand. Solly and Alan Brown will be relieved).

And there will be more from the Anglicans, particular from Ephraim Radner and the Anglican Communion Institute.

James Merrik provides much more intelligent comment on the Anglican crisis than I can, while the Anglican Communion website formally and Kendall Harmon at Titus 1.9 conveniently channels the torrent of statements that issue from all parts of the Communion.

We are bound to each other

No member Church can make significant decisions unilaterally and still expect this to make no difference to how it is regarded in the fellowship; this would be uncomfortably like saying that every member could redefine the terms of belonging as and when it suited them. Some actions – and sacramental actions in particular – just do have the effect of putting a Church outside or even across the central stream of the life they have shared with other Churches.

We now face some choices about what kind of Church we as Anglicans are or want to be. Some speak as if it would be perfectly simple – and indeed desirable – to dissolve the international relationships, so that every local Church could do what it thought right. This may be tempting, but it ignores two things at least.

First, it fails to see that the same problems and the same principles apply within local Churches as between Churches. The divisions don’t run just between national bodies at a distance, they are at work in each locality, and pose the same question: are we prepared to work at a common life which doesn’t just reflect the interests and beliefs of one group but tries to find something that could be in everyone’s interest – recognising that this involves different sorts of costs for everyone involved? It may be tempting to say, ‘let each local church go its own way’; but once you’ve lost the idea that you need to try to remain together in order to find the fullest possible truth, what do you appeal to in the local situation when serious division threatens?

Second, it ignores the degree to which we are already bound in with each other’s life through a vast network of informal contacts and exchanges.. These are not the same as the formal relations of ecclesiastical communion, but they are real and deep, and they would be a lot weaker and a lot more casual without those more formal structures. They mean that no local Church and no group within a local Church can just settle down complacently with what it or its surrounding society finds comfortable. The Church worldwide is not simply the sum total of local communities. It has a cross-cultural dimension that is vital to its health and it is naïve to think that this can survive without some structures to make it possible. An isolated local Church is less than a complete Church…

The idea of a ‘covenant’ between local Churches (developing alongside the existing work being done on harmonising the church law of different local Churches) is one method that has been suggested, and it seems to me the best way forward. It is necessarily an ‘opt-in’ matter…

The idea of an Archbishop of Canterbury resolving any of this by decree is misplaced, however tempting for many. The Archbishop of Canterbury presides and convenes in the Communion, and may do what this document attempts to do, which is to outline the theological framework in which a problem should be addressed; but he must always act collegially, with the bishops of his own local Church and with the primates and the other instruments of communion.

Archbishop Rowan William Reflections on the Anglican Communion

Anglican Covenant

A well-written and concise covenant would clarify the identity and mission of the Churches of, or in association with, the Anglican Communion. By articulating our ecclesiological identity, a covenant will also help the Anglican Communion in self-understanding and in ecumenical relationships. A covenant could provide, for all provinces and/or national churches, a fundamental basis of trust, co-operation and action in relationship with one another and in relation to the whole Communion. A covenant could express what is already implicit, by articulating the “bonds of affectionâ€?, that is, the “house rulesâ€? by which the family of Anglican churches wishes to live together . These would be intended to develop a disciplined and fulfilling life in communion.

It could also become a significant educational tool within the Communion, enabling Anglicans worldwide to understand and deepen their commitment to the beliefs, history and practices they share in common and their development of these as they engage together in God’s mission in the world.

Any covenant also has the potential of providing what is currently lacking – an agreed framework for common discernment, and the prevention and resolution of conflict. It could do this by bringing together and making explicit much that until now has been a matter of convention within the Communion’s common life.

The Proposal for an Anglican Covenant

Solly on 'The Eschatological Economy'

Recapitulation – God’s reverse engineering of creation. Eschatology has tended to mean that which is to come. Then it meant that which is to come which has actually come in Christ, the proleptic future. Now it means the bow wave of God’s work of recreation, coursing through the created order, renewing everything in line with the end. It’s quite an image, and an idea, and in one sense challengeable at every point, yet we see by faith not be sight. The Church is on the crest of that bow wave, or it should be. Sometimes it isn’t. The world seeks to resist that bow wave, puts up its sand banks, and storm walls. But God just does a new thing, outflanking the world. A crucified God: who’d have thought it?

Douglas Knight reminds us, once again, that we are grafted into Israel, not the other way around. We then partake of Israel’s paideia. We are in the same school as them. Yes, things are different, for Christ has come, who has summed up Israel in himself, yet also, the people of Israel are still being formed. Their story is not a handy source of illustrations, much as we might refer to Shakespeare, or Dickens for illustrations; their story is our story, which is God’s story, his narrative. Israel is still central to God’s plans. This is the election of God, through which the world is blessed.

Pay a visit to the all-new Solly Gratia.

You can find out more about The Eschatological Economy at Amazon.com or at Amazon.co.uk or at Eerdmans

The episcopate is one, each part of which is held by each one for the whole

So koinonia / communio is a foundational term which gained fundamental significance for the early church, and which in the eyes of many once more occupies a pre-eminent place in defining the essence of the Church today. The Church is shared participation in the life of God, therefore koinonia with God and with one another (1 Jn, 1,3).

So from the beginning the episcopal office was ‘koinonially’ or collegially embedded in the communion of all bishops; it was never perceived as an office to be understood or practised individually. In his history of the Church Eusebius describes in detail the endeavours to maintain peace, unity, love and communion during the violent conflicts of the second century regarding the correct fasting practices and the dating of Easter (Hist. eccl., v,23f; cf. vii,5). The collegial nature of the episcopal office achieves its most impressive expression in the consecration of bishops.

‘The episcopate is one, each part of which is held by each one for the whole’ (Cyprian of Carthage De ecclesiae catholicae unitate, 1,5). Such statements and admonitions recur again and again in Cyprian’s letters (Ep., 55,21; 59,14 et al.). Most familiar is the statement that the Church is the people united with the bishop and the flock devoted to its shepherd. ‘The bishop is in the church and the church is in the bishop, and if anyone is not with the bishop he is not with the church.’ But Cyprian goes even one step further: he not only emphasises the unity of the people of God with its own individual bishop, but also adds that no one should imagine that he can be in communion with just a few, for ‘the Catholic Church is not split or divided’ but ‘united and held together by the glue of the mutual cohesion of the bishops’ (Ep., 66,8).

Cardinal Walter Kasper An address given to the Church of England Bishops’ Meeting (5 June 2006)

The holy community forms Scripture, and is formed by it

The action of Israel that we have received in the form of scripture and liturgy topples the alternative constructions of the gentiles, and prevents the world knitting itself together into any form other than the form of Christ. It is the one action that keeps the world open, reminding us that the Messiah is not here, and that what the world presently is, is not the end. True reading produces the transformation of the readers, so hermeneutics is ethics, the reading of people into the Church.

The Church is the history of the Lord writ small and long

Ephraim Radner

One way of looking at the present conflict within our own churches is to see it as an insistence, on the part of the various players, to heal that sickness and to rewrite the plot of the drama of which they are parts so as to exclude the length and detail of its anguished elaboration. In contrast, the history of the Church, which is the history of the Lord writ small and long, proclaims: It is for the sake of charity that we suffer our disagreements; it is for the sake of truth that we love the liar; it is for the sake of the bride that it receive as her gift her beloved’s body as her own. The irony of Christian patience is that it is an eternal hastening into the midst of this story, rather than one that hurries to break out of it. And we are perhaps called to judge our practical reactions to the array of our ecclesial anxieties – over incompetent and unfaithful bishops, over corrupted prayers and unjust stewards, over shallow understandings and venal missions, over uncaring guardians and unheeding tenants – judge them according to the standard of such a passion.

No clear directives emerge from such a judgment. Those who wish to know if they must follow this line, or resist along that, or compromise upon this other, are given no certainties in their choices simply because they subject themselves to the scriptural shape of Jesus’ life. But at least they know that they cannot run away – and because it is ultimately his life, that there is even redemption in staying put! There are not many bodies, some true and some false, some loving and some uncharitable. These are distractions from the one story, and the embrace of this story cannot sustain the parsing of proprieties that today so grips our distorted sense of integrity. Readiness for love – truth bound in unity – is a single and extended temporal exertion. It is embodied in God’s subjection to time in Christ Jesus, and the Church finds its own readiness in this form. There is no escape from this particular fate and promise. And therein are the kisses of God’s peace for his people enjoyed.

Ephraim Radner ‘The Figure of Truth and Unity’ in Hope Among the Fragments: The Broken Church and its Engagement of Scripture

Changes that have a future – George Ille on The Eschatological Economy

The Eschatological economy makes daring and provocative claims:

`Christian thought is political. It contradicts other systems of ideas and creates a real encounter and contest of world-views…’

`Modernity is a religion… Modernity and Christianity are both forms of enlightenment, but modernity is the counterfeit version, Christianity the real one…’

`The Word of God identifies Western being as a failure of action and of relatedness, and thus as a failure of being… `

Such bold claims require a radical approach and in an important sense Douglas Knight’s book is about the totality of the real: about God and God’s action and about time and history.

`Modern thought [was] ever ready to take things apart but [was] unable to put them together again’.

Yet, while making bold claims about things theo-logical, the book is also about humanity, perhaps profoundly about humanity. After all, God’s action and being are deeply bound to humanity and there is no knowledge of the Creator God without knowledge of his creature.

From this perspective the book is about personhood, about sanctification and transformation, that is, about paideia, which becomes, in Knight’s use, a key theological term. Special attention is accorded to the `stage’ of this transformation and especially to the role of Israel in this process.

`A Trinitarian and Irenaean view of Israel’s anthropology puts human beings in touch with the creation of which they are members. Humankind is hosted by God and brought up by him into the practice of God’s hospitality.’

The sacrifice of the Son, the event of the cross is shown to be the apex of God’s labour for and with the world, through which we are integrated into the person of the Son through the Holy Spirit, becoming thus members of his body, the Church. All these things are spelled out in conversation with the contemporary (post)modern world, its claims and proposals, systems of ideas, dichotomies, utopias and above all, its idols. It is a conversation to be sure, but it is also a contest and a battle against falsehood and pretense, an affirmation of what really `is’ and what `is to come’, against a rhetoric of `being’ and self-made existence.

In this sense, the book is also about method and sources, as it advocates reflection that listens to the Scriptures and acknowledges the richness of church doctrine and tradition. Indeed, Christianity can and must tell the difference between constructive change and mere decay since `one way of being human is very considerably better than other ways’… Knight modestly claims that there’s nothing really new in his book (This reminds some of us of Zizioulas’ modest stance!)…

Yet the book offers a genuine experience of the `new’, just confirming, perhaps, an underlying theme in Knight’s book: It is only as we respond to God in obedience and praise that we allow him to do new things; we allow Him to labor `changes’ that have a future, changes that conform us to the image of His Son.

After all, the Gospel, as Knight reminds us, `is the most exhilarating thing in the marketplace’… Getting a taste of this pathos alone makes the book worth studying. A must read for all Theology students and preachers but also for philosophers, sociologists and political theorists who engage themselves in `descriptions’ or `prescriptions’ of the contemporary world.

George Ille’s Amazon review