Saturday, February 07, 2015

Review of Ouweneel's What then is theology?

What then is theology? By Willem J. Ouweneel 2014, 242 pages
In this book Ouweneel offers us, according to the subtitle, “an introduction to Christian theology”.  However it is not an introduction in the usual sense of an overview of the main themes and content of theology.  It is rather an introduction to the activity of theology, or as Ouweneel puts it in his foreword “It is more like a chemist taking you into his laboratory, and showing you what he is doing.  That is, the purpose of this book is to analyze the phenomenon of theology itself” (xiii).  This means that the book is not really an example of theology, it is a book about theology, and as such is more philosophical in character.  This is an important point for Ouweneel who is also a philosopher as well as a theologian, and he makes numerous references to his earlier book Wisdom for Thinkers which introduces Christian philosophy.

For convenience we can divide the book into two sections.  The first five chapters deal with how theology is related to matters that should be distinguished from theology itself. The last five chapters deal more with the internal workings of theology, in the language of the foreword, the theologian’s laboratory.

So Ouweneel begins by distinguishing the practical character of Christian life and belief from theology as a science, a theoretical enterprise (chapter one). He explains the role and influence of philosophy in relation to theology (chapter two), how the Bible is both not the only object of theology and is more than what theological study is about (chapter three), how theology relates to the other sciences (chapter four), and to the church and its confessions (chapter five). Helpful about this part of the book is the way he insists that Christian life is richer and more important than theological study valuable as it is.  The difference between ordinary “Bible study” and theological study is very great, he argues, “It is a bit like the difference between the eater and the chemist in the case of bread” (5).  He develops the quite radical position that theology is neither a higher more sacred science than other sciences (scholastic view), nor a dogmatic pseudo-science (modern rationalism). It is one science among the others, properly scientific and not to be controlled by the church, but as all sciences, developed out of a faith stance. All sciences are ‘secular’ in that they investigate empirical reality, and all sciences are ‘sacred’ in that they investigate God’s creation and must recognize or willfully ignore the creator. Further Ouweneel insists that without a Christian philosophy there can be no Christian theology.

The second half, as I have divided it, starts with a discussion of abstraction and the use of concepts and ideas in theology (chapter six), next he discusses criteria for the conceptualization that is part of the task of theology (chapter seven).  The next two chapters deal with paradigms, first in science in general then in theology in particular, he ends with a discussion of (theoretical) truth against the background of the fullness of truth found in Jesus Christ.

Ouweneel has set himself a very difficult task. The issues he raises have not always received the attention they deserve and at the same time he is writing an introduction. As such some parts of the book are more successful than others. Since I am sympathetic to his project and much of what he is arguing for I will just mention briefly a few weak points. His focus is on systematic theology and it is a shame that he does not consider the important developments in biblical theology.  His distinctions between rational, irrational, non-rational and supra-rational start to become rather confusing when set alongside other distinctions he makes (eg practical-theoretical, faith, worldview, ground-motive etc.). It is not always clear how these all distinctions line up. He can be commended for keeping the book short, however I wonder if some sections could have been cut back more to make room for a case study chapter where the relevance of the issues raised in earlier chapters can be applied to a live theological topic.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Kieslowski’s The Decalogue

It's been a long time since I watched this series of films by the great Polish director.  Think Christian and Reel Spirituality are blogging through the series here.  I'm a bit late off the mark on this one, but still a good spur to re-watch them.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

H.R. Rookmaaker

I've been dipping into his classic Modern Art and the Death of a Culture. It was the first "reformational" book I ever read and I've been hooked ever since. Here is a particularly good quote:

I used the phrase 'how a Christian should live and act' rather than 'a Christian attitude to culture' advisedly. For we can easily slip into the mistake of making Christianity and culture two distinct entities quite separate from each other. Then, if we find we are in difficulties in resolving the two, the mistake may well be that we are trying to bring together two different things which we have separated artificially. Culture is the result of man's creative activity within God-given structures. So it can never be something apart from our faith. All our work is ultimately directed by our answer to the question of who - or what - our God is, and where for us the ultimate source of all reality and life lies. So our resulting 'culture' can never be something separate from our 'faith' (36)

Monday, August 02, 2010

Schürmann on seeing and hearing

For the Greeks to know is to see: “To know is to have seen, and to attain evidence is, as the word indicates, ‘to have seen well’. We only see well what is given to us, and we see best what remains immobile. Hearing, on the other hand, is the sense attuned to time: the ear perceives movements of approach and retreat better than the eye. A sound is not yet, then it approaches, it is there, and already it fades and is no more. For the gaze there is only the either-or of the present and the absent. To look is to strive to see what is the case. It is an act that requires distantiation. We are unable to read signs printed on a page with the eye ‘glued’ to it. Not so for hearing. The closer a sound is the better I perceive it. Hence ‘belonging’ has the connotation of ‘hearing’. The German gehören derives from hören. In the Greek, Latin, and Germanic languages, to be capable of hearing is to be capable of obeying; horchen meaning gehorchen. The eye is the organ of distance and the constantly present. The ear is the organ of involvement and of disclosure in time” (Reiner Schürmann Heidegger on Being and Acting pp.65-66)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Miscellaneous Links

The latest Aspects is on-line.

Next year the Association for Reformational philosophy celebrates 75 years with an international symposium at the Free University on The Future of Creation Order.

The ICS is preparing for what looks to be a very interesting conference next month called Truth Matters.

Johan Mekkes Creation, Revelation and Philosophy has been available for a few months now here or here.

Some optimistic reflections on Britain's coalition government from Jonathan Chaplin From Big State to Big Society.

And Jonathan Chaplin's forthcoming book on Dooyeweerd.

Is Dooyeweerd the Prog Rock of philosophy? Discuss

... Well at least prog rockers and reformational philosophers should agree that early Genesis is great!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Philosophia Reformata

There is now a website for the journal Philosophia Reformata published by the Association for Reformational Philosophy. If you explore it a little you will find a few articles on-line and the contents for the next edition apparently due out now.

Paul has also pointed out to me that Roy Clouser and others have published a special edition of the journal Axiomathes dedicated to Herman Dooyeweerd. See here and here. Reason to celebrate.