Thursday, February 5, 2015


Over at Creideamh Kevin has written a good response to Stephen Fry's recent outburst at God, a response which brings the discussion back to Jesus of Nazareth.

In Stephen Fry's defence, however, I think it would be fair to say that his diatribe (as well as most theodicy-talk) has concerned itself, unwittingly or otherwise, more with the Father than the Son. As in the New Testament, when people say "God" (meaning the Christian god) they are usually talking about the Father to whom Jesus addressed his prayers.

This equation of God with the Father causes confusion, therefore describing the relationship between Father and Son becomes something of an apologetic argument, a way to approach the theodicy question in a distinctly Christian - which is to say Trinitarian - idiom. This is an apologetic argument very much in tune with the early church's theological work.

What I've noticed from thinkers such as Eagleton/Zizek/Rollins (not to roll all three into one), as well as in a recent article by Giles Fraser, is that God gets collapsed into Jesus. The Father (who is the one on the dock) simply disappears, and God becomes the human Jesus.

I heard Eagleton speak in Belfast last year. He was brilliant. But I was left with the question: how does the Jesus you have so wonderfully described relate to the Father who raised him from the dead? In fact, it seems to me that the only thing lacking from the theology of Eagleton is the resurrection, though perhaps his (forthcoming?) book on hope addresses this lack. The same could be said of Zizek's theology (and, by extension, that of Rollins).

For the early church, some of the key problems it faced were, how does the suffering Jesus reveal the impassible God? How does this powerless human reveal the omnipotent deity? How does the one who died reveal the One who is Life Itself? The early church never got rid of divine omnipotence and impassibility and aseity and immutability in order to solve these problems. The humanity of Christ never became divine, such that Christians actually worship a creature instead of the creator.

If Fry is as intelligent as he sounds, he will very much want to know how Christian theology does solve these problems. How, exactly, does the cross of Christ manifest the wisdom and power of God? How are the Father and Son related in the work of reconciliation? Why does the Father raise the Son from the dead? The answers may not satisfy Fry, but at least he will have a better idea of who Christians are talking about when they talk about God.

For Christians, what is perhaps needed today is a clearer understanding of the first person of the Trinity, the One to whom the Lord's Prayer is addressed. Such an understanding, so Barth would say, is our best apologetic.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Captive to Christ - A Short Review

Captive to Christ, Open to the World by Brian Brock is not an ordinary theology book. The book, in fact, is not really "by" Brian Brock at all; instead it is a collection of interviews with Brock which are split up into eight chapters.

Film reviewer Roger Ebert once said that what matters in a film is not only what it is about but how it is about it. Something similar could be said for Brock's book. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is about, other than merely repeating the title (which actually captures the essence of the book perfectly). But what is fascinating about the book is its unusual style and the way in which Brock thinks about various subject matters. More than most books I've read, Brock displays a mind which has learned to think theologically. His is a way of seeing the world that is illuminated by God's reconciling action through Christ. Moreover, the light of this reconciliation shines on all things great and small, so that it becomes possible and necessary to think theologically about architecture, city planning, water charges, and all the other stuff that makes up the life we live.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Brock finishes the book by citing Terence Malick's The Tree of Life as the best piece of theology he had "read" in the last month. Malick and Brock share not only a Texas childhood, but a vision of the world as the theatre of divine glory. They understand their vocation as a summons to make this world known, to show us a different (attentive) way of seeing what is staring us in the face. For Malick, this task is fulfilled using a camera and the images of nature and grace which it can capture. For Brock, it is Scripture which transforms our seeing. In his hands this "book" becomes like one of Malick's lenses, showing us a reality more real than our narrow vision will allow. Our response to this reality can only be wonder, awe, and praise.