Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The God Who Saves: A Preview of My New Book


I am pleased to announce that my new book, The God Who Saves: A Dogmatic Sketch, is now available from Cascade Books. This work is near to my heart. For one thing, it is the first book contract I ever signed. The project originated in January 2010 at a request from Robin Parry, an editor at Wipf and Stock, who was familiar with my work. I tell the whole story of the book’s origin in the prologue, so I will not relay the details again here. Suffice it to say, it has been on my mind for the last half-dozen years and, in a certain respect, it is the project for which all my previous writings were the prolegomena.

The book is essentially a dogmatics in outline, but it is controlled throughout by a very specific claim, namely, that salvation—not trinity, not christology—is the orienting center and guiding norm of Christian theology. To give a sense of what I mean, here is a sample from chapter 2, where I outline my theological method.
From Chapter 2: “Soteriocentrism: Prolegomena to a Dogmatic Sketch” 
I have argued that Christian faith confesses a God who saves. Theology is the conceptual interpretation and clarification of this axiom of faith. It is a scientific, hermeneutical, and practical discipline that humbly and rigorously reflects on the relation between God and humanity in the light of God’s reconciling self-revelation in Jesus Christ. But what does it mean for God to save? What does it mean for us to be saved? These questions—which lie at the very heart of Christian self-understanding—elude easy answers and must be asked anew by every generation. The difficulty of reaching any kind of agreement is only compounded by the fact that there has never been a dogma of the atonement. No ecumenical conciliar statement about the meaning of salvation exists. The ecumenical councils were content with clarifying the nature of Christ’s person without clarifying the nature of his saving work and how we participate in it. This has left the church with “an inherited heap of proposals” and little agreement about how to evaluate them.
The following chapters attempt to offer a systematic theological account of salvation, a soteriological dogmatica minora. That is to say, they seek to articulate various doctrines of the Christian faith in terms of the economy of grace. Christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, and creation—these and other doctrines will be explicated in light of the saving event that Christian faith confesses has taken place in Christ. This project is thus the consistent application of Melanchthon’s axiom (“to know Christ means to know his benefits”) to the whole of Christian theology. To know God is to know the God who saves. Theology is only properly Christian theology when it interprets the subject-matter of theology—the material content of dogmatics—in terms of its salvific significance for us. 
The implication is that, as Eberhard Jüngel puts it, “you are not teaching the matter properly if you do not at the same time think of its use.” . . . To adapt Luther, unless we learn to know God in this way (i.e., soteriologically), we necessarily go wrong. Unless theology speaks of a reality that is “useful for us as believers,” that “helps us,” it speaks in vain. To borrow an image from Wittgenstein, theology that is not determined by soteriology is language “idling,” that is, not “doing work.” If any doctrinal statement is irrelevant to the question of salvation, then it is highly questionable whether it has a place in a distinctively Christian articulation of faith. To paraphrase Luther, it is not Christian theology when you explicate doctrines from a historical or metaphysical point of view; they must be interpreted in terms of their usefulness and significance for us as believers. (53–55)
All of this talk about salvation is situated within the context of trying to work out a problem regarding Christian universalism—a position I have defended and articulated on this blog in the past. Over the years my thoughts on the matter have changed. I came to see the individual person’s historicity to be a significant problem for most universalistic soteriologies, indeed, for soteriology as such. Most classical Christian thought began to strike me as hermeneutically uncritical and highly metaphysical (in a pejorative sense that I define in the book). I had to subject my own views to thoroughgoing scrutiny and reconstruct my theology from the ground up. This book is the result. The purpose of The God Who Saves is thus to construct an alternative account of salvation that addresses these concerns and provides an internally coherent and consistent presentation of Christian theology.

What Is Salvation?

You may be thinking: if this is a reconstruction of theology around soteriology, what exactly is that soteriology? The answer, in a nutshell, is that I define salvation apocalyptically. Salvation, in other words, is an eschatological event—one that existentially destroys our old existence by crucifying us with Christ. I make this argument in conversation with recent work in apocalyptic theology (especially Ernst Käsemann and J. Louis Martyn), but hermeneutically filtered through the critical lens of Rudolf Bultmann and Eberhard Jüngel. I then appropriate Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s concept of unconscious Christianity to argue that the apocalypse is an inherently unconscious event. I distinguish between unconscious faith/Christianity—as the level at which God’s saving act occurs—and conscious faith/Christianity, which is the level at which religious practice takes place. Conscious Christianity fulfills its mission as it orients us toward and connects us with the unconscious faith that is its transcendent ground. From this the other doctrines follow: the Spirit is the agent of unconscious faith, the church is primarily an unconscious community, and the creature is defined by its unconscious, unnatural existence.
Reading tip: If you want to get right to my reconstruction of Christian theology, then skip ahead to chapter 3. The first two chapters are introductory material. The main course—and really the heart of the book—is found in the third chapter, where I articulate my account of salvation as apocalypse. 
How Does This Book Relate to My Previous Books?

There is a close connection between The God Who Saves and my previous work. In The Mission of Demythologizing, I attempted to figure out what the relationship between Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann actually is. What I discovered is that Barth and Bultmann part ways over soteriology—over universalism in fact. Barth’s mature theology, in which he rejects the form of dialectical theology he previously shared with Bultmann, is a thoroughgoing attempt to secure the universality and sovereignty of divine grace. His later doctrine of election claims that all human beings are elect in Christ, who alone is the elected and rejected one. Bultmann opposes this idea and argues instead that election takes place in the act of faith itself, which is the position of the early Barth. This is a clear impasse and I make no attempt to reconcile Barth and Bultmann on this point in my previous books. I have always been convinced that Barth was right to make God’s grace universally effective, but I became convinced that Bultmann was equally right to emphasize the freedom and historicity of the human person. The God Who Saves is my attempt to develop an account of universal salvation within a Bultmannian approach to theology.

This has been a personally meaningful book to write. I hope it proves as meaningful to those of you who read it.

____________________________


Table of Contents
Prologue: How My Mind Has Changed
1 Introduction: The Problem of Christian Universalism
Dare We Hope? Can We Know? 
Defining Universalism: A Typology 
The Problem of Universalism 
Toward a Universalism without Metaphysics 
2 Soteriocentrism: Prolegomena to a Dogmatic Sketch
Exordium to a Soteriocentric Theology 
Theology as Science 
Theology as Hermeneutics 
Theology as Praxis 
Theology as Soteriology 
Orthoheterodoxy: In Defense of the Freedom of Theology 
3 The Act of Salvation: Apocalypse
Soteriological Multivalence and the Hermeneutical Problem 
Salvation as Apocalypse: Interrogating New Testament Soteriology 
Salvation as Embarrassment: Eberhard Jüngel’s Eccentric Eschatology 
Salvation as Cocrucifixion: The Participatory Event of the Apocalypse 
Unconscious Apocalypse: “. . . You Did It to Me” 
4 The Agent of Salvation: Christ-Spirit
Soteriology and Christology 
Person before Work: The Internal Incoherence of Chalcedonian Christology 
Person as Work: Toward a Soteriocentric Christology 
The Interruptive Event: Apocalyptic Christology 
The Interruptive Agent: Apocalyptic Pneumatology 
Deus Praesens: Apocalyptic Pneuma-Christology 
5 The Site of Salvation: Apostolate
Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus? 
The Problem of Ecclesiocentrism 
The Church as the Apocalyptic Apostolate 
Toward a New Letter to Diognetus 
6 The Space of Salvation: Unnature
The Destroyer of Eden 
Reversing the Loci: Two Ways 
Existential Theanthropology: A Theology of the Creature 
Existential Theocosmology: A Theology of Creation 
Existential Epektasis: The End of Creation 
7 The God of Salvation: Trinity
Trinity as Schluss 
God the Christ: The Inbreaking of the Apocalypse 
God the Spirit: The Power of the Apocalypse 
God the Creator: The Ground of the Apocalypse 
The Apocalyptic Trinity 
The Ex-Centering God 
Epilogue: Faith, Love, and Hope
Universalism and Religions 
Universalism and Justice 
Universalism and the Afterlife

1 comment:

George Plasterer said...

Just a note that I look forward to reading your perspective. Someone said that theologians need to be prepared to express their view of how Christian theology hangs together. Of course, I will need the kindle version,. Sounds like an intriguing way to put it all together.