Archive for the ‘ Book Reviews ’ Category

Biblical Witness & Christian Life in Relational Perspective

The third part of what is a four part review of Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction. Part one is here and part two here.

The section, Biblical Witness in Relational Perspective, is quite short containing four essays, all of which are excellent and well written.

I am going to tell you a little bit about and quote from Dennis Bratcher’s The Revelation and Inspiration of Scripture.  Dr. Bratcher starts the essay off telling us, “Christianity is a response to God’s self-disclosure.” A God the reveals Godself, self-discloses, is a relational God and this is reinforced in the biblical texts.

Scripture is the witness that the community of faith has borne to or about revelation…. God is the content of the revelation. Scripture tells us about and points us toward that revelation.

God revealed Himself in history (events), and the community of faith interpreted those events…. The Scriptures reflect this dynamic of the “story of God woven into the life of the community of faith through the centuries.

In this way the Scriptures, the Bible, becomes relational. Relational in the way in which it was initially received. Relational in the way it is interpreted and applied within faith communities.

The three other essays are also excellent. Of note is Dwight Swanson’s The Authority of the Bible. Swanson packs so much into his short essay that I would have to quote the whole thing, so I’ll just say that it is well worth the read.

Section III, The Christian Life in Relational Perspective, has seven essays in living out the Christian life relationally, the way it is intended.

In Prayer and our Relationship with God Libby Tedder tells us, “Prayer is to relational theology as communication is to relationship. You cannot have one without the other.”  She acknowledges that for some the idea of prayer brings up feelings of guilt, we know we are supposed to pray, but aren’t clear on how, so we neglect it.

Relational theology affirms that prayer affects us. But there is a sense in which it also affects God.

God affected by our prayers. Let that dwell a moment. God affected by our prayers.

Prayer literally changes the world. The way we pray relate to Godin prayer changes the way we live and move and have our being. By transforming us, prayer transforms the way God is present to the world by opening up new ways for love to abound…. Praying is the waking up to the presence of God.

Tedder goes on to talk about different ways to pray, some components of prayer.

Prayer can engage all the senses. Prayer can be turning to the inner world of reflections and the outer wolrd electric with clues that God is on the move.

Prayer is relational, it is interaction with God.

There is one more section, Ethics and Justice in Relational Perspective which I will get in another post very soon.

Again the book is Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction,  (2012), Eds. Brint Montgomery, Thomas Jay Oord, and Karen Winslow, Point Loma Press, San Diego. It is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.


Doctrines of Theology in Relational Perspective

Earlier in the week I posted the first part of a review of Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction. In that post I talked about the introduction by editor Tom Oord. I also promised to talk about the four sections of relational perspective that divide the book.

Doctrines of Theology in Relational Perspective is the first and largest section of the book, comprised of 12 essays. As I read through them I found that I like all of them and underlined most of each for quotes to use here. If I were to do that this review would be longer than the book and I would violate some copyright law by quoting almost the entire section. So, what I have decided to do is to select a couple of the fine essays, ones that stand out, to me. I hope that you will find them as interesting as I did.

Relational theologies don’t tell you how to think about God, but open doors of possibility for thinking about God, opening the doors of exploration. Well, at least that’s how I see them.

In his essay Relational Theology and the Holy Spirit, Amos Yong tells us that, “The Holy Spirit lies at the very heart of relational theology.” I think that he has something here, God in Trinity is by nature a relational being, the Holy Spirit brings us into that relationship.

If the Spirit is at the center of the relational life of God, the Spirit is also central to God’s relationship with the world….Ireneus held that the Father created the world with his “two hands”–the Word and the Spirit. If the Word of God structures the world and its creatures, the Spirit of God is the dynamic life force that infuses creativity and novelty into the rhythms of creation.

I love that last line, “the dynamic life force that infuses creativity and novelty into the rhythms of creation.” It is packed full of possibility.

Human beings find meaning, fulfillment, and significance precisely in relationship one to another, bonded together by the common creator Spirit.

In a fallen world, the bonds of human communion have been broken and people alienated from themselves, others, and their natural environments. But God’s redeeming work consists of healing the estrangement of our hearts, reconciling human beings with one another, and restoring harmony between humanity and the cosmos.

This is a brilliant little essay, so full of possibility based in the redemptive power of God.

The Image of God by Samuel M. Powell talks about how our Imago Dei  relational.

Because we are created in the image of God, our existence is marked by relationships. To be the creaturely image of God is to be essentially and unavoidably related to God, to fellow humans, and to the rest of creation.

Because we are created in God’s image we are afforded certain rights and responsibilities of relationship.

Because we are created in God’s image, each of us is due the highest moral consideration in every respect.

To be created in God’s image is to be a member of a human community in which everyone should receive respect, dignity, and consideration.

Everyone, not just a chosen elite, everyone, isn’t that how Jesus treats people?

I am going to quote from one more essay in this section.

Faith in Relations by Wm. Curtis Holtzen.

Relationship, like “faith”, is a multifaceted notion and not easily defined. When we explore relationship through the notions of love and trust, however, we see that faith and relationship become inseparable.

If faith is a relationship or communal bond, shouldn’t we think of God as someone of faith? … “Yes!” Faith is relational and relationships are reciprocal, two-sided. Because God is relational, God has faith. God’s relationship with us is not only loving but also trusting.

There are nine other essays in this section. They talk about love in relational terms, sin, and salvation in relational terms. They all open up the possibility of thinking about God and ourselves, theology in new ways, relational ways.

The  third part in this series, Biblical Witness & Christian Living in Relational Perspective is up.

Again the book is Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction,  (2012), Eds. Brint Montgomery, Thomas Jay Oord, and Karen Winslow, Point Loma Press, San Diego. It is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.

Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction

Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction is a collection of short essays on relational theologies. There are 31, each about three pages long. Short, concise very good for those of us with short attention spans. Short, concise yet packed full of information.

In the introduction, What is Relational Theology?,  Thomas Jay Oord tells a little about what relational theologies are and the need for them in the Christian theological landscape. Dr. Oord tells us that in the biblical descriptions of God, by His very nature He is relational.

God instructs, expects, and responds to creatures–all of which are relational activities.

Dr. Oord goes on to explain, and even show graphically, how several other theologies fall under the umbrella of relational theology. Theologies such as process, liberation, feminist, and missional all are relational theologies.

The essays are then broken down into four sections of relational perspective: Doctrines of Theology, Biblical Witness, The Christian Life, and Ethics and Justice. In future posts we will explore each of these sections.

If you don’t want to wait Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction is available from Amazon. It is a very good book, well worth the read.

The first section Doctrines of theology in Relational Perspective and the second & third sections, Biblical Witness & Christian Life in Relational Perspective are now up.

The Nature of Love: a Theology Reviewed

The Nature of Love: A Theology

Thomas Jay Oord

Chalice Press, St. Louis, MO


Review by Paul DeBaufer

The Nature of Love is a theology book. We learn very early on that the majority of theologians have made love a secondary or tertiary theme in their theologies. Yet love plays a central role in the life, words, teaching, and ministry of Jesus Christ. Why should this be? Because 1 John 4:8 & 16 tell us “God is love”, so why is love put on the back burner in theology? Some have tried to make love central to their theology but that has been problematic. One of the biggest obstacles is that love seems to mean so many different things. There are no less than three words in Greek that are translated love in English. The Greek words are not used consistently in the Bible. So while Biblically love is center stage theologies have sent it into the wings.

This is a book about love. No it is not a romance. It is about love, love as found in the Bible. We learn that there are many senses of “love” in the Bible. Several words are translated into the English “love”. Dr. Oord searches out all of these uses of love and finds that even though there are many meanings there is a thread of basic meaning which connects them all ties them all together so that it is fair usage for the translators to use the single word, “love” to fill in for the several in the original languages. The definition Oord proffers is Love is to act intentionally in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others to promote overall well being. This is the uniting theme underlying love in the Biblical sense.

In the introduction we learned that the major theologians through the ages did not give love the primary role and consideration that it rightfully should have. However, theologies of love have been put forward. We all, from reading the Bible, and especially the New Testament, can see that love is central, that love is at least a part of God’s nature. So why then has love, which plays a central role in the biblical narrative, been neglected by so many theologians and theologies? Yet, love remains ignored. Oord demonstrates love’s primacy in the Bible. He then goes on to offer a reason that the theologians have all but ignored it: love is a slippery word, amorphous in that we don’t all mean the same thing when we use “love”. Love is a word that many feel they know the definition of yet no one really has articulated a good solid definition. Contrary to what Hollywood and the romance novel industry would have us believe love is not a feeling so much as a chosen action.

In the next two chapters Dr. Oord explores the love theologies of two theologians. Anders Nygren wrote of love, God’s love in the mid 20th century. Augustine of Hippo wrote of love in the late 4th early 5th centuries. The theology of Nygren has greatly influenced how we perceive the Greek word agape. Nygren made the claim that agape is God’s perfect love. Oord tells us that Nygren’s notion is unsatisfying because the biblical witness is inconsistent in its use of agape. Further, Nygren’s theology disregards the Old Testament, and even some of the New Testament because they do not fit with the proposition put forward. Augustine, according to The Nature of Love, didn’t believe God loves creatures. Again this is unsatisfying because the actions of God toward creatures fit the definition Oord puts forward. In this chapters we again definitions for agape, philia, and eros (which is never used in the New Testament per se, yet it is described.) Each of these definitions have at its root the definition of love in general, where they differ is in object and orientation.

In the final chapter Dr. Oord introduces us to his theology of love Essential Kenosis. For Oord God is non-coercive yet highly persuasive. Love is God’s nature. Oord defines kenosis as self-giving. Essential Kenosis says that God does not just voluntarily give Himself, kenosis is part of His nature, an aspect of love. This notion has implications for all of the omni- statements we tend to hold so dear. While the omni- statements have their origin in the Hellenization of Christianity and can be traced to neoplatonic philosophies, Oord doesn’t discard them, just modifies them to fit the biblical witness. Essential Kenosis has implications for creation. But most importantly Essential Kenosis satisfactorily deals with the problem of evil in the world. A loving God who can yet does nothing about true evil seems contradictory. While Essential Kenosis suggests that because God loves perfectly He cannot override the freedom He has given creation, itself an act of love. God can do all that is doable, knows all that is knowable. What is doable and knowable are not exhaustive to our minds. We can imagine the impossible and the unknowable.

I like Essential Kenosis as a theology. I, personally, believe that it fits the biblical narrative better than the other theologies of love. I find Essential Kenosis satisfying. Since becoming a Christian five years ago I have been presented with many ideas and traditions which, for me, do not fit with what I read in the Bible. Essential Kenosis as presented in The Nature of Love: a Theology fits what I have come to in my studies. But I came to the Bible with none of the traditional pre-conceived ideas which I needed to defend. This book may well be uncomfortable for many as Oord challenges many dearly held traditional concepts. The Nature of Love is readily accessible for the casual reader, no need to be a scholar to understand what Oord is saying. However, I think even scholars will enjoy this book.