His high calling was theology, which, as he reminded his readers time and again, treats of that most comprehensive of topics: God and all things in God. That this task bears little of the worldly pomp it once did meant nothing to him.
One does not endeavor to understand divine things for the sake of earthly recognition. Theology may be the one intellectual practice that actually is its own reward: the one inquiry whose object provides satisfaction to the mind that undertakes it. The knowledge of God repays study without end. When Webster died, much of the world may have failed to notice, but some of it did. Those of us who knew and followed his work learned the news with heavy hearts. The rest are under 70 years old, and had Webster lived, he would now be only While these other thinkers have either already written their master works or are in process of doing so, Webster was at the outset of a planned 5-volume systematic theology.
Those of us who mourn him, mourn the loss of that too, which it is not unreasonable to suppose would have shaped the field in powerful and unexpected ways. Fortunately, Webster left us with what still amounts to a treasure trove of brilliant theological writings: more than a dozen books, plus essays, articles, and reviews in the hundreds.
Many theological scholars from the last generation or two talk about the work of Hauerwas as a kind of gateway drug into the world of Christian ethics. I have heard similar stories from peers about Webster; reading him meant being introduced to systematic theology for the first time, even if one had read theology before.
For contemporary theology simply is not written the way Webster wrote. It is almost as if the subject is more than an academic discipline; almost as if it is alive…. In what follows I would like to introduce the theology of John Webster to those who have not yet had the pleasure. Not only is there much more where it came from; as Webster would want to insist, what you catch merely a glimpse of here can be had in full far beyond his relatively manageable oeuvre: in the liturgy, in the Great Tradition, in Holy Scripture.
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The knowledge of God repays study, but the knowledge of God is not like knowledge of Wittgenstein or ancient Rome or quantum mechanics. I will then take up some paired themes in his work: Trinity and creation, Christ and salvation, Scripture and church. It is the unvarying condition of theological commentary to stack up unachieved transparencies, one layer upon another. For those of us who did not know him personally, then, his background and personal life were almost entirely unknown.
If God is for us, who can be against us? Thus, as I said above, Webster sought to be as unnoticeable and unshowy a witness as possible to the self-revealing God. But like all thinkers he belonged to a context, one that showed in his writings, and so one worth attending to. But that came later: First he studied language and literature and went to Cambridge in the late s to pursue English, though he was quickly disabused of his interest. His training was largely devoid of dogmatics but focused on methodological matters wedded to doctrinal criticism, that is, undertaking the theological task as the treatment of problems raised in light of normative modern concerns.
The second period was his time in Toronto; there, with help from his Jesuit colleague George Schner, he overcame what he felt to be the constrictions of his training and seized upon the positive dogmatic task. As recently as Webster wrote that reception of Barth was still in its infancy;  he saw his work as ground-clearing and generative, making possible fuller, more comprehensive, and more sophisticated reception in the future.
In that, it is already clear he succeeded. The content is Reformed in a Barthian vein, with a command of contemporary and modern thought, theological and otherwise. Here was Webster the dogmatician, addressing himself to the major issues of Christian theology with 15 years behind him of learning at the feet of the masters. In one sense this period continued till the end, but an important shift in his thought occurred sometime in the two decades following during which time he moved from Oxford to Aberdeen, where he taught from to , then moved again to St.
Andrews, where he taught till his death. Readers of earlier volumes of essays if such there be may notice some changes of emphasis and idiom in the present collection: more consideration is paid to patristic and medieval authors and to their heirs in post-Reformation scholastic theology, and more is expected of the theology of the creation and of the Spirit.
The Latin comes from the Summa Theologica , nicely symbolizing the change in view. Thomas Aquinas, along with other representatives of the catholic and scholastic traditions. As Tyler Wittman observes:. What he thought Barth lacked, [Webster] found in rich supply in the patristic and scholastic traditions: a doctrine of creation, some ministerial metaphysics, a robust account of the divine names and attributes, and the Christology these elements enabled.
It is notable that Webster rarely criticized Barth in print; this was no dogmatic patricide, throwing off the yoke of the outgrown teacher. That Webster died with his systematic theology yet unwritten, not to mention other manuscripts and book contracts including a commentary on Ephesians, the work I had personally been anticipating most , means we will not see the fruition of this post-Barthian turn to St.
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Thomas, St. Augustine, and the Protestant scholastics. We will never know. Likely it would have come and gone more quietly than many of us would have wished, with less fanfare than it deserved.
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What he left us is more than enough, in any case. Although Webster devoted himself to a number of major doctrinal topics, the one overriding locus was the doctrine of God, or theology proper. More to the point, God must take priority within the dogmatic system because the various doctrines, as objects of thought, ought to reflect their source in reality: creation, church, Scripture, sacraments, and so on have their being and end in God, and without specification of the latter, there can be no theologically substantive discussion of the former.
Christian theology is a work of regenerate intelligence, awakened and illuminated by divine instruction to consider a twofold object.
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This object is, first, God in himself in the unsurpassable perfection of his inner being and work as Father, Son and Spirit and in his outer operations, and, second and by derivation, all other things relative to him. Christian divinity is characterized both by the scope of its matter—it aims at a comprehensive treatment of God and creatures—and by the material order of that treatment, in which theology proper precedes and governs economy. All things have their origin in a single transcendent animating source; a system of theology is so to be arranged that the source, the process of derivation and the derivatives may in due order become objects of contemplative and practical attention.
There is much to unpack here. Reason—created, fallen, redeemed—is unable of itself to say one intelligible word about God, had God not deigned, in love, to reveal himself, providing words sufficient to go on. In the work of theology itself, then, God is first and last. God initiates, accompanies, and concludes the undertaking. Theology is not bold, assertive, curious, creative—at least not in this sense. It consists in listening.
It falls under the divine pedagogy. God is the teacher, the theologian a lifelong learner. With good reason does the church not designate someone a doctor until after her death. These are based on the Bible, ancient creeds, doctrinal statements and important texts. They also draw from continuing discussion. Liturgy : another key part of Anglicanism. This is the ordering of worship and prayer through words and action — both in public and private. Theological education within the Anglican Communion Theological education continues apace.
Experience, […]. Introduction 1. Experience, God and theology 2. The nature and revelation 3. The active of faith Note Index. The experience of God: an invitation to do theology is a balanced synthesis of present-day thinking on issues such as experience and God, revelation and history, faith and unbelief.
Theology emerges as an exciting adventure available to all. This revised edition will be of interest to students of theology, catechists, religious, priests and adult Christians wishing to deepen their faith. CHAPTER 1: Experience, God and theology My ultimate purpose, in all that I have written, is but to say this one simple thing to my readers — whether they know it or not, whether they reflect on it or not, human beings are always and everywhere, in all times and places, oriented and directed to that ineffable mystery we call God Karl Rahner 1.
One of the most significant developments in Christian theology in the twentieth century has been the recovery of experience as an integral element in the exercise of theology. This development is especially remarkable in Catholic theology in view of the fact that not so long ago there was something of a magisterial ban against the use of experience in theology.
This distrust of the appeal to experience was brought about by the Modernist crisis at the beginning of the twentieth century. During that time a rather narrow, psychological and subjectivist understanding of experience was in existence. As a result the unfortunate impression was given that theology was simply an outgrowth of experience in this narrow sense. By way of reaction against Modernism Catholic theology deliberately isolated itself from historical, social, scientific and cultural developments. Barriers were erected between life and theology. Something of a divorce took place between theory and practice.
Grace and nature became exclusive opposites. The argument from authority assumed absolute significance. This kind of apartheid was inconsistent with the witness of the theological tradition and Christian living.
It could not be followed through rigorously and therefore could not last for long. Gradually in the early s and s theology once again moved outwards towards the other sciences. Similarities as well as differences between theology and the other sciences emerged. Soon it became clear that theology was concerned not only with the passing on of Scripture and tradition, but also with some form of critical correlation between human experience and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Today most discussions about the nature of theology among Catholic theologians include reference somewhere along the line to the role of human experience.
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At the same time, these theologians are careful to point out that this relationship between theology and experience does not imply in any sense a reduction of theology to experience. Perhaps even more significant is the way that the language of experience over the years has come back into official Church documents. An equally strong concern about the importance of experience, though perhaps less remarkable from an historical point of view, also exists in Protestant theology.
The legacies of Friedrich Schleiermacher and William James continue to be enjoyed and refined by modern Protestant theology. Smith argues persuasively that the disclosure of God to the world takes place in and through human experience. This development in Catholic theology during the twentieth century, coupled with the centrality of experience in Protestant theology, calls for some discussion and clarification.
The appeal to experience has become so commonplace that it is now in danger of becoming vacuous. It can be made to mean just about anything one wishes it to mean. If experience is to become a genuine source of theology in the light of Scripture, tradition and the authority of the Christian community, then there is a pressing need for precision in the use we make of and the meaning we attach to experience. What do we mean by the appeal to experience in theology?
Is such an appeal to experience in danger of becoming a subjective cloak or even worse a new smokescreen against critical reflection?
It is hoped that a treatment of these issues will throw a little critical light on the use we make of experience in theology and perhaps advance the way forward toward some ecumenical agreement on how Christian theology is done as well as providing a point of departure for inter-religious dialogue. In this way we will be laying the critical foundations for a theology, in subsequent chapters, of the interplay that exists between revelation and faith in experience.
The meaning of experience We can begin our exploration of the meaning of experience by excluding at the outset the more obviously deficient uses of the word. Here experience is reduced to the level of euphoric outbursts of transient emotions. Such phenomena may be the result of a passing psychological mood or they may be induced by artificial external stimuli. In either case we are dealing with a situation that is temporary, superficial and unrepresentative of the normal human condition. To this extent such experiences cannot be regarded as reliable channels of human understanding.
Here experience is confined exclusively to a direct contact with the empirically given world. This empiricist view of experience must also be rejected because of the large areas of life that are automatically excluded. A third and not untypical view of experience is one which says that language determines the character of all human experience. Not only is language descriptive of human experience, but it is also prescriptive of human experience.
The language we use in life determines the kind of experiences we have of the world around us. These restrictive accounts of experiences alert us to some of the more obvious pitfalls that are around when trying to work out a critical theology of experience.
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What then are the basic ingredients of a human experience? Experience involves first and foremost a human subject and reality. By a human subject we mean an individual self that is capable of seeing, feeling, thinking and discerning. The element of feeling, as distinct from emotion, is important in the life of the human subject.