Tripp Fuller, the American founder and host of the Homebrewed Theology Podcast can take credit for advancing the understanding of more than just open and relational theologies among a portion of the Church. He should, however, surely be particularly recognised for his work popularising the work of amazing Process theologians such as John Cobb and Catherine Keller among his contemporaries. He is currently working in Edinburgh University on a project which addresses the apparently conflicting worlds of science and faith.

In this book Fuller demonstrates his own theological prowess, cleverly drawing out the theologies of others to develop a holistic Christology of his own. Fuller has an impressively broad frame of reference, having developed a deep understanding of and respect for the work of a range of theological thinkers and ideas. He pings off names both familiar and perhaps less familiar to progressive Christians on both sides of the Atlantic, and places them into discussion with their interlocutors. His writing is in places passionate, but remains clear and well expressed. At points he executes a really neat turn of phrase that will leave you wanting more.

Much like the rest of his work, which seems to be aimed at bringing together apparently diverse strands of thinking, the book is primarily developed around the dialogue between pairings of theologians. Throughout Fuller seeks to extend apparently contrasting approaches to develop something which he says is lacking from much contemporary theological discourse, a clear answer to the Christological question from the perspective of an informed ‘liberal’ Christianity. I agree that this is a live issue.

Where there are problems in the book, they are not due to his theology – unless that is you take ‘open and relational’ to mean something other than broadly process oriented, a mistake few serious theology scholars are likely to make. Even if that were the case, it’s unlikely that one would have room to take meaningful issue with the quality of his thought or the accuracy of his representation of the work of others.

At times though I felt there were terms which would have benefitted from some clarity of definition: I’ve already mentioned the word ‘liberal’ for instance, and I found it to be used generously but without clarity of definition. My view is that it is not so clear in its definition (at least not in the UK) as to pass entirely without comment. One might argue that in this case the meaning becomes clear in its context, but I think that some clarity on it from the start would have been an advantage. A smart editor should perhaps have picked this up. My other criticism is linked: I also found that the occasional textual editing error crept into the book – a minor issue perhaps, and maybe not even worthy of a complaint, but these errors of formatting and grammar were enough to occasionally catch my eye and thereby my attention.

That leads me to my main point about the book – this is serious theology, it’s not a book from which you particularly want your attention to be distracted. However, it’s also readable, Fuller sweeps the reader along very well, and through some reasonably complex territory. He does this partly by flicking back occasionally to short and pacey sentences, in places as short as just one word, and repeated mantra type phrases such as: “Christology is a disciple’s discipline” or “Christology is a disciple’s dogma”.

Ultimately, in his own development of an articulated and articulatable open and relational Christology, Fuller reiterates his initial challenge: that such an endeavour must be able to take into account the historical Jesus, the existential register of faith and the metaphysical ‘referent’ to God. In doing this the reader comes to realise that of course Fuller has already given them the answer they seek in his title, his Christology concerns the idea that God invests God’s self in the world. As this ‘divine self-investment’ occurs God receives back into God’s self “all that the world becomes” – ‘so far, so Cobb…’ one might say. Fuller expands on this however, developing on the idea that God shares in the travails of the world such that God too needs salvation. Here Fuller answers not just the question of what it means to call Jesus the Christ, but also Joan Osborne’s more personal and experiential question: ‘what if God was one of us?’

There is a lot to love about this book, Fuller has a beautiful way with phrasing and his comprehension of and elucidation of the work of some brilliant theologians is superb. I think I will be returning to it quite often. It isn’t necessarily a book that evangelicals will love, I feel, but for those drawn to an open and relational approach to Christianity, this may well provide the answer they need to the Christological conundrum.

balanced rockI gave a paper at the Society for the Study of Theology conference #SST2017 this week, the underlying argument of which concerned the idea of peace, and how we conceive of it.

The view I tried to get across, in the space of a couple of thousand largely inadequate words was a relatively simple one: the popular idea of peace (lack of disruption) is distinctly different to ‘peace-as-peace’ which is not characterised by a lack of disruption, but rather by an acceptance of it.

A key characteristic of peace-as-peace is that it can’t be grasped. Peace as lack of disruption can be, it can be planned for, strategised, grabbed hold of. But peace-as-peace can’t, it come as a gift, an event to be experienced.

Peace as lack of disruption encourages the building of concrete certainties, in many cases using literal concrete. It requires the development of borders, of demarcations, of peace walls. In religions it requires the demarcation lines of denominational boundaries and written doctrines.

But peace-as-peace doesn’t need these same safeguards, it has no requirement for dividing lines, or clear statements of purpose or intent. This sort of peace is like the manna that fell from the sky for the children of Israel, it’s not for storing up or warehousing, its for experiencing in the moment.

Alfred North Whitehead warned of the danger of aiming for peace, and ending up with it’s ‘bastard substitute’: anaesthesia. The effect of anaesthetic is to give the sense of no disruption, no pain. But while this may seem like an ideal goal, may appear to be what we want, it is in fact not the blessing it seems.

Peace-as-peace doesn’t try to get rid of the pain, or the disruption, but accepts it and then welcomes the gift of peace in that space. John Cobb said peace is the ‘direct apprehension of one’s relatedness with that factor in the universe which is divine’, leaving us with a sense that of the various nick-names which have been given to that divine nature: God, Great Spirit, Great Fact, ground of being, etc. ‘disruption’ may well describe the divine as adequately as any of them.

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exploreIt’s been a long time since I kept a regular blog, but after watching social media turn increasingly anti social, and at the same time becoming increasingly aware of its limitations in terms of communicating anything more than a very basic message, I’ve turned back to the blog.

Astute observers will notice of course that this is a new blog, my old site is retired, or at least too tired. Too old and too out of date, and no longer the direction I want to take things. So this is the start of something new.

I’m moderately embarrassed at what I feel is the vanity of having the site named after me – but my long term plan is to post some of my more academic writing here, and for that reason if no other it suits me better to have a site name which refers directly to me. So there it is, that which I have previously disliked elsewhere has come close to home.

Currently my reading and writing is following a number of inter-related themes, they include: ‘the absurd’ arising from writers such as Camus and Kierkegaard; a pursuit of contemporary process theology and theopoetics through the writings of a number of interesting people, particularly Catherine Keller but a number of others too (Cobb, Whitehead, Pittenger etc.; and a continuation of my old obsession with panentheism.

Those who know me will recall that I’ve long been interested in ‘new monasticism’ of one sort or another, and something of that remains, although following in Bonhoeffer’s footsteps I’m now more invested in ‘new theology’, specifically religionless Christianity, than I am in what went before. I’ve certainly developed a more thoroughly pluralist approach, and if anything an even greater concern with the problematic idea of the ‘other’.

Meditation and apophaticism continue to loom large for me too, and I may yet continue to write about what I call Zen Christianity. For now though my main reading/writing focus has to related more directly to my PhD research, which is on post-secular spiritual capital. It’s highly likely that pieces of work specifically to do with that will appear here from time to time (in fact, all the subject above find a home in there somewhere).

I hope that this will become a place where meaningful interaction can take place, I hope too, as time goes on, to produce material which is readily ‘shareable’, but in the meantime, this is just to let you know that the site exists.

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