conservative, Gary Dorrien, Karl Barth, liberal, liberation, N.T. Wright, Phyllis Trible, sacrament

Towards a Theology of Balance

I read through Louis-Marie Chauvet’s Symbol and Sacrament last semester. Interestingly, he posits: “Any theology that integrates fully, and in principle, the sacramentality of the faith requires a consent to corporality, a consent so complete that it tries to think about god according to corporality.”1

The touch of God, a gracious and loving touch — characterized by hesed — is the foundational understanding for the Christian life. It certainly was in the Old Testament, for it was from hesed that the promises of God flowed, and likewise in the New Testament, Jesus refused to shrink from the call to live God’s plan for the sake of humanity. The in-breaking of the basileia, in preaching and deed, was and continues to be predicated on love. All of this is, in a word, salvific.

Rightly understood, salvation is complex and far from limited to a spiritual idea: Sacramental theology is concerned with encountering the grace of God in our daily existence; Liberation theology is concerned with the oppressed/oppressor relationship as it works for justice towards peace; and Barth says the love of God can never be out done. All speak of God’s salvation because God’s daily, revelatory work is inherently relational, and therefore salvific. Also, again, the grace of God is extensive. In such an understanding, Salvation is for to the whole of humanity, in both personal and social terms. Each person is a physical being of blood living within an ecosystem — God built a creation that God cares for. Quite simply, to quote N.T. Wright, Jesus is Lord and the emperor is not.

A holistic notion of Salvation — a broad understanding of soteriology — demands a balance, or at the very least, a multifaceted understanding of the text. A holistic Salvation must pull from the entire canon, for the stead-fast love of God permeates the entire text. Such love, when properly embodied, stands against: supercessionism, spirit over matter, and even church over the rule of God. Quite simply, care for the poor is the Gospel and arguably, the church with the poor is the Gospel as well.

Importantly, such an idea of balance is not limited to embodying one tradition. Gary Dorrien’s thesis defining American Liberal theology, understands “liberal” as a mediating theology between “orthodoxy” (right belief) and secular culture. Dorrien calls it third-way theology. However, what I am advocating is not a third-way theology; rather, it challenges both liberal and conservative. Balance calls into question the tendency of liberalism to act like the Gospel of John doesn’t exist or has much positive meaning. Balance also challenges an opposite extreme, say fundamentalist dispensationalism, as it calls people to take seriously the doctrine of Creation. A laissez faire attitude concerning the earth and humanity by dispensationalists, or conservative American Christianity on the whole, isn’t necessarily due to the fact that the Earth will burn in their eschatology; instead, the lack of concern for God’s creation stems from a limited and impoverished theology of creation.

As a corrective, for example, many a “liberals” I think could profit from re-listening to Phyllis Trible and other feminists that favor a re-reading of or the confronting the texts of terror as an important thing, rather than tossing the text aside. However, for the “conservatives” listening to Phyllis Trible also seems important — there are indeed texts of terror and to not recognize it is to ignore what texts do to someone, to the body. And to Christ’s body. And to the body of Christ.

Simply put, I find that often the fault of many theologies is to fail to take seriously the complexity and entirety of the canon. And I wonder if we fail to do so because we fail to listen to one another well.

1. Louis-Marie Chauvet, Symbol and Sacrament: A Sacramental Reinterpretation of Christian Existence, Translated by Patrick Madigan, S.J., and Madeleine Beaumont, pg. 155.


2 thoughts on “Towards a Theology of Balance

  1. Halden says:

    I think your notion of a more holistically canonical theology is something akin to what Kevin Vanhoozer proposes in The Drama of Doctrine. I’m certainly in agreement, however I think we also need to beware of a sort of “panopticon” approach to theology that attempts to be a theory of everything. I think there’s something to theology being ad hoc and occasional that is important. I think what you’re saying is that we need to continually be expansive in incorporating voices other than our own into our doing of theology, which is of course correct. But we must never allow our attempts at holism and balance to become some sort of closed system imbued with a totalizing conceptual neatness.

  2. Being aware of the human tendency to claim a goal, a goal far beyond the capability of a human, is important. In fact I think such an awareness is necessary to do theology, along with the resistance to giving into such pride.

    However, and perhaps I was unclear in the post (which is entirely possible), but the heart of this post is the attempt to take the canon seriously. But I found as I was thinking it through, that in order to take the breadth of the canon seriously, this may only be able to be realized in theological discussion — which is context driven and oriented towards the specific persons’ questions, in a word, ad hoc. And so at the end, I conclude with listening well, which is always a strenuous exercise and never finished.

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