Sonderegger’s ‘Systematic Theology’ (so far) pt. V: Final Things

Previous installments here, here, here and here.

I was going to write on Sonderegger’s treatment of the love of God, but that’s already been covered quite nicely here, so consider this a wrapping-up reflection.

Sonderegger’s work has left me feeling, for the most part, pretty good. Her ‘metaphysical’ reading of Scripture is solid and her grasp of the philosophical issues such a reading raises is equally solid. She is a truly charitable reader and critique-er, spending pages drawing out what a given thinker has to say before gently (perhaps too gently) saying ‘no’ or ‘yes’. Perhaps my favourite part of her conversation with theologians past and present is the simple fact that she’s willing to say ‘no’ to ideas that are considered mere orthodoxy today (Barth, Rahner and Kant seem to be her primary targets when she does this). This was delightful for me to read, partially because I agree with her (in the case of Kant, there’s little reason to make his thought any kind of court to which theology must appeal) and partially because I love it when someone is a bit of a troublemaker. Those who take Barth/Rahner to be the standard of orthodoxy today will no doubt subject Sonderegger to heavy criticism – her refusal to begin with christology and her decision to reject a ‘christomorphic’ or ‘christocentric’ theology is another example of her theological troublemaking (much needed troublemaking, of course).

Perhaps the greatest strength here is Sonderegger’s keen eye for reading Scripture – in particular, her reading of the relationship between David and Johnathan as a type of the Love of God in the covenant history of Israel (pp. 497-502). I’d say that this reading is the highlight of the book, in fact. While her readings and exegesis of Scripture are all outstanding (her exegesis of the concept of divine hiddeness in both the New and Old Testament, pp. 66-76, and of course the opening exegesis of the concept of divine one-ness from p. 10-21 are two more examples of rigourous and attentive biblical reading), this particular example is the cream of the crop.

There is occasion for critique here, however. Sonderegger is sometimes to prone to assert more than argue that something is the case, an example being her treatment of analogy, univocity and actualism when speaking of God. One is left with the feeling that we don’t need analogy, can’t have univocity and don’t need actualism – but at the same time, it is affirmed that every doctrine of God must in fact have some kind of analogy! Exactly how all this works out is less than clear, especially given Sonderegger’s own ‘compatibilism’ with regard to speaking/knowledge of God – it feels as though these issues are simply brushed away at times. Perhaps a lengthier discussion would have benefited this topic. In general, the weaknesses of Sonderegger’s work are along this line: not poor engagement, but not length enough engagement.

Having said that, however, Sonderegger has given us a brilliant, challenging and provocative work full of sound exegesis, theological awareness and academic rigour. Reading it will only make you a better person, so go out, get it, and dig in.

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