Book Review: Edward Oakes’ Infinity Dwindled To Infancy

Infinity Dwindled to Infancy (Edward Oakes)My review of Edward T. Oakes’ new introduction to ChristologyInfinity Dwindled to Infancy — has just been published in the new issue of the International Journal of Systematic Theology (vol. 16 no. 2).  This is a very strong survey with few if any oversights, and I definitely commend it for those who are new to this area of Christian theology.  It’s also very well-suited for classroom use, particularly at Catholic and ecumenically-minded institutions.

Father Oakes was professor of dogmatic theology at Mundelein Seminary and University of St. Mary of the Lake.  He was a member of the Society of Jesus and perhaps best-known as a leading scholar of the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, and just passed away this last December.  (Read the memorial at First Things.)

From the review:

Throughout Oakes quotes copiously from secondary sources, particularly those he favors (including Hans Urs von Balthasar). This is usually welcome in the main body, or relegated to extended footnotes, but adds to the sense that the book seeks to be a classroom text – more a compendium of historical and contemporary scholarship – and not at all original. The overall accessibility and thoroughness of the book commend it well for classroom use. A pair of appendices offer short summaries of the ecumenical councils and a glossary of terms. More complex material is included in the volume, but wisely shunted into excurses (the extra Calvinisticum, for example, as well as the distinction of will and intellect in Maximus’ dyothelitism). Both undergraduate and graduate-level students will thus benefit from Oakes’ treatment. Particularly in the earlier chapters it seems as though no stone has been left unturned, no detail left out for the sake of brevity.

Look for the full piece in the April issue of IJST.

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Book Review: Reconciled Humanity – Karl Barth in Dialogue

The Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Seminary has just published my lengthy review of Hans Vium Mikkelsen’s book Reconciled Humanity: Karl Barth in Dialogue (Eerdmans, 2010).  Rather than limiting myself to a standard, 1,000-word book review, I opted to take advantage of the lack of space restrictions afforded by the venue and write a fuller-length engagement with the book.  This is because I find Mikkelsen’s thesis so important: Does the incarnation of the Word touch the inner being of God?  Barth says yes, and Mikkelsen worries 1) that he does not carry this through with full consistency, and 2) that it has negative consequences for other doctrinal loci.  It is important to get Barth right here, particularly because Mikkelsen is rightly attending to the actualist character of Barth’s theology (insofar as he understands it).

Here is an excerpt from the critical section of the review:

The author’s central claim is that Barth thus failed to integrate the incarnation and the being of God because he upheld the doctrine of immutability (cf. 211n15). In Mikkelsen’s judgment, Barth’s actualist understanding of God therefore seems “not to make any major difference at all, as the intention of the incarnation can be traced back to God’s original essence (whether it be in the form of an original being or an original will). Nothing new then has really happened to God in the incarnation” (260). Mikkelsen finally wants to argue against such a hidden God that God’s inner being is “dynamic,” i.e. capable of change, and therefore capable of absorbing Jesus’ experience of death on the cross (157n23). When the Son suffers, “God really suffers in his own inner being; there is no God beyond the God who suffers” (257). This he takes to be contradictory to Barth’s own Christology, despite Barth’s best intentions to allow the life of Jesus to be determinative for God.

It is unfortunate that Mikkelsen successfully identifies the actualist character of Barth’s theological ontology but later fails to apprehend the ways in which this impacts his thought – in areas such as intra-trinitarian relations and God’s relationship to history, for example. Barth insists that the Word’s becoming flesh means that God really has taken humanity into God’s own life, with all the ontological implications that entails. This is a point that Mikkelsen stresses well. But because he has lost sight of the fact that Barth grounds the incarnation in God’s eternal election, the author can only conclude that “one consequence of God’s absorbing of human finitude must be that God not only is able to change, but also that God actually did change during the incarnation” (224). He acknowledges that this thesis contradicts Barth, but he fails to see why Barth could (and, indeed, had to) maintain divine immutability: God’s inclusion of humanity in the divine life viz. the Son is eternal and not merely punctiliar. And so the incarnation, while not excluding God’s being, does not signal a change in God but rather the actualization in history of that which God, by virtue of divine decision, has always been (cf. 224-5, 257). Mikkelsen’s thesis falls apart not so much because he gets Barth wrong as because he has not paid sufficient attention to getting Barth entirely right.

The full text of the review is available on the Center for Barth Studies site.

Book Review: Trinitarian Theology After Barth

The Journal of Theological Studies has just published the online edition of my review of Trinitarian Theology After Barth, a collection of essays edited by Myk Habets and Phillip Tolliday. (I believe the print version is in the first issue of 2012.) The papers in this volume were presented at a 2009 symposium at Carey Baptist College, New Zealand, and include papers from scholars attempting to think “with,” “after,” and “beyond” Karl Barth.

Contributors to the volume’s 16 essays include Paul D. Molnar, Ivor Davidson, Bruce L. McCormack, Murray Rae, Benjamin Myers, Myk Habets, and more.

Fortunately Oxford Journals provides a public link to the online version — no subscription required! So you can read the full review here and find a PDF copy here.

Book Review: The Christ’s Faith

The new issue of the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology (Volume 29 no. 2, Autumn 2011) is out (but unfortunately not online), and includes my view of R. Michael Allen’s book The Christ’s Faith: A Dogmatic Sketch (T&T Clark, 2009).

The book is the published version of Allen’s Wheaton dissertation on the theological ramifications of the pistis Christou debate — a New Testament discussion over whether this important Greek phrase should be translated “faith in Christ” or something more akin to “the faithfulness of Christ” or “Christ’s faith.” Are men and women saved by virtue of placing our faith in Jesus, or by virtue of his faithfulness to us?

Here is an extract from the review:

Allen’s presentation is straight-forward and unambiguous, making this book a challenging entry into a live debate over pistis Christou – demonstrating in particular how the subjective genitive is not only commensurate with traditional theology (‘coherence’) but also beneficial to it (‘necessity’), so that a retreat from the exegetical debate to the dogmatic impropriety of ‘Christ’s faith’ is no longer permissible.  While the hermeneutical debate rages on in the circle of biblical studies, Allen has offered a solid contribution to systematic theology and to the church by rigorously demonstrating the dogmatic import of the question.

It’s an important topic and Allen does a fine job addressing it from the point of view of dogmatic theology. Look for my full review in SBET.