On the time of his loss of life in 2016, readers had been anticipating many extra books from John Webster. Recognized for his work on Holy Scripture, the character of theology, the considered Karl Barth, and the doctrine of God, Webster was for essentially the most half solely getting began. Onerous at work on a five-volume Systematic Theology, to not point out different initiatives, he was taken away from us on the very second his eager mind was about to bear its ripest fruit. That undertaking’s absence continues to be felt, as does Webster’s joyful demeanor and voice. It’s due to this fact shocking and pleasant to see the publication of 1 final e book from Webster, The Tradition of Theology.
This new e book isn’t fairly new, nevertheless. It originated as a sequence of lectures, on the College of Otago in 1998, on the character of theology. We’re indebted to Ivor Davidson and Alden McCray for rescuing them from obscurity. Certainly, Davidson’s eloquent introduction is not any small a part of the e book’s worth. The character of theology is a theme that occupied Webster all through his profession, and this explicit iteration of his views wasn’t his final phrase on the matter. Nonetheless, these lectures possess an power that makes them helpful in their very own proper.
The Tradition of Theology is a chic and joyful—and at occasions feisty—summons to “theological theology.” Regardless of its unique context and viewers, the problems Webster raises are as related immediately as they had been twenty years in the past. On the coronary heart of Webster’s reflections is what distinction it makes for theology that it’s involved with the arresting gospel of Jesus Christ, that inbreaking of the brand new creation and “great catastrophe of human life and history” (43). The eschatological or apocalyptic texture to his argument is one which Webster would finally suppress in favor of different emphases he thought of higher capable of make the purpose. However the level is sort of forceful as is: the presence of the risen Jesus by his Spirit directly raises the potential of theology and calls it into query.
Because the title suggests, the gospel creates a specific theological “culture,” an embodied lifestyle with seen and identifiable practices by which the church pursues sure targets. And since these practices are human actions, they’re able to cultivation and enchancment, in addition to neglect. By the Spirit’s presents, theologians ought to grow to be sure varieties of individuals interrogated by the gospel and prodded towards becoming habits of thoughts and soul. They need to train these presents in disciplined motion, above all “practices of reading and interpretation, and the educational and political strategies which surround them” (45).
As a result of it by no means masters God, as a result of God slays it and makes it alive, theology is due to this fact essentially self-critical.
But since this lifestyle is created by the gospel, it’s not one thing we are able to make for ourselves. The one factor we are able to do is consistently solid ourselves at God’s ft in humility and repentance, turning ourselves over to his sanctifying work. Theologians aren’t an expert class with a confident, agency grasp of their topic. The subject material of theological examine is harmful and untamed: God is a consuming fireplace and due to this fact by no means domesticated by even essentially the most refined, pious, or well-meaning theological cultures. The necessity for repentance by no means ceases, as a result of the necessity for God’s grace by no means ceases. Therefore, theology should have a humorousness. If we are able to’t chortle at ourselves, we now have but to realize that humility with out which no true theology can exist. Whereas the tradition of theology should be totally different from the broader tradition, it should not assume an excessive amount of of itself on this account. It’s what it’s, and theologians are what they’re, solely by God’s grace. As a result of it by no means masters God, as a result of God slays it and makes it alive, theology is due to this fact essentially self-critical.
Webster traces this core perception because it applies to studying Scripture and the nice texts of the Christian custom, theology’s institutional settings, its self-critical practices, and theologians themselves. Readers would possibly nitpick sure components right here and there—the considerably “Barthian” account of revelation and Scripture, the comparatively skinny account of habits, and so forth. However, as Davidson’s introduction recounts, Webster beat us to the punch and adjusted his views on these issues, partially as a result of he actually tried to reside as much as this portrait of theology himself.
Pursue God for His Personal Sake
For evangelicals, The Tradition of Theology maybe finest reads as a delicate and well timed provocation. A number of themes shall be welcome: the priority to bridge the divides between theology and church life, the emphasis on studying Scripture as the guts of theology, and the necessity for theologians to be disciples themselves.
Different emphases could be straightforward to brush apart, however solely to our personal peril. When Webster argues that a lot trendy divinity has misplaced its confidence in Scripture and catechesis, turning to different sources, it may be straightforward to assume this occurs elsewhere and to different individuals. However we’ve missed the guts of his argument if we are able to’t see how that is true of ourselves. We frequently flail about in response to the newest disaster relatively than displaying a quiet confidence in Jesus’s gospel. Even latest turns towards custom and “retrieval” of our doctrinal heritage can grow to be little greater than social and political winds masquerading as theology.
Do we actually need a theological theology—a pursuit of God for his personal sake by way of affected person and attentive listening to of his Phrase—or do we now have time for it solely insofar because it helps us stake out some territory? Webster’s problem right here is well timed, as a result of he asks if we actually have been overwhelmed by the gospel and the lordship of Christ sufficient to let that set our agenda.
It is a problem properly price listening to, and listening to once more.