- OR -


Select Another  View Scanned Text

Knowing and feeling

Thinking about God John Macquarrie (scM, £3.50)

The Concept of God Keith Ward (Blackwell, £5.00) In the first sentence of his introduction Ward writes that he will be concerned with the concept of God "which has de-veloped within the Christian tradition." Increasingly this acknowledgment must be made but, once it is made, it raises questions about the adequacy of one tradition in the light of other traditions. It raises the question about the status of the philosophic examination of one tradi-tion alone—is the question of God to be an historical question: How is God con-ceived in a particular tradition? What are the presuppositions of that conception? Or is the question of God one which, arising in a tradition, remains within the context of that tradition and advances it? Ward is aware of the presence of other traditions and of some of the problems thus posed by their presence but he does not, I think; sufficiently clearly formulate those problems. He writes, again in his introduction, that theologians may find the philosophical approach adopted an unfamiliar and confusing one. I am not sure if he means that theologians may find his particular philosophical approach —which is within the analytic tradition for the most part—confusing and un-familiar or that they will find any syste-matic philosophical approach confusing. It is true that at certain stages in its history Christian theology has more or less deliberately eschewed a systematic-ally developed philosophical base but this has not always, or even most often, been the case. So when Ward suggests that "the attempt to clarify the meaning of certain important and puzzling concepts around which one's understanding of life is formed, results in a new development of that understanding and a further dis-covery of the possibilities involved in one's conceptualisation of it . . . the ex-ploration of what it means to believe in God leads to a progress in one's under-standing of one's own life and the poss-ible use of the concept of God within it," he is in fact describing a very traditional theological enterprise. The question of his book is then: How can we make the concept of God, in whom we believe, intellectually coherent? This is faith seeking understanding. Because the start-ing point is belief he begins with a study of belief before examining aspects of the object of belief. One criticism: he attri- butes (p. 132) to Aquinas what seems to be Anselm's—or a version of Anselm's—argument which, whatever its merits, Aquinas did not consider compelling. An allied criticism is that he does not consider Anselm's argument—even as attributed to Aquinas—in anything like an adequate manner consider-ing its historical importance. Still, despite what some may consider a cer-tain narrowness of philosophical per-spective, particularly in the contemporary period, the study can benefit its intended readership, which is not so much pro-fessional philosophers but scholarly non-philosophers—whether theologians by profession or not. Insofar as the author is correct in discerning the absence of a philosophical base in contemporary reli-gious thought in Britain his book will be a useful corrective. Whether or not the base that he puts forward is in the end sufficiently firm is another but not less important question.

John Macquarrie in this collection of papers—some previously published and some apparently in print for the first time—offers another base derived much more from the contemporary Continental tradition. Heidegger is prominent as is to be expected but not obtrusive. Other thinkers forming the background in Thinking about God and absent or rare in Ward's The Concept of God, are for example, Hegel, Schleiermacher, Bult-mann, Barth. Thus, despite the topical identity, the contexts of these books are very different.

The papers are collected into three sections: Concepts and Method; Recon-structing Theism; Some Representative Modern Thinkers. I found much of in-terest in each section although many of the pieces are quite short and so do not very thoroughly explore the questions which they raise. The title of the collec-tion should remind the reader of Heideg-ger's "What is called Thinking?" and of the relation between thinking and truth as unconcealment. Several of the papers deal with this relation. "Truth in Theo-logy," "How can we think of God," "Schleiermacher Reconsidered" are three examples; each one from a different section of the book. In the first of these Macquarrie discusses the traditional defi-nition of truth: adaequatio intellectus et rei. He notes that adaequatio is often understood to mean agreement or corres-pondence of thought and thing, and suggests that it might be interpreted to mean "what we say is true to the extent that it is adequate to what we are talking about, that is to say, to the extent to which it is able to light up what is talked about, so that we see it for what it is . . ." (23-24). The link with negative theology is plain and Macquarrie's treatment of both Schleiermacher and Bultmann should be read in the light of this understanding of truth.

The essay on Schleiermacher is short, illuminating, honest and, I think, criti-quable. Macquarrie quotes Hegel's criti-cism of Schleiermacher's romanticism in which the Absolute "is not to be grasped in conceptual form, but felt, intuited ..." He tries to rebut Hegel with the sugges-tion that in Schleiermacher's theology we find that the Absolute cannot be reached directly in thought but only indirectly through the feelings induced by the action of the Absolute upon us. Macquarrie holds that Schleiermacher is surely cor-rect in making a more modest claim (than Hegel's), namely, that we see God only in a reflection, even in a riddle. But if "see" is used here as a synonym for "know," then this just by-passes Hegel's objection, for the foundation of that ob-jection is that we know the Absolute, in as much as we do know it—perhaps better, that the Absolute is known insofar as it is known—rather than feel it. If, on the other hand, "see" is a synonym for "feel" then Schleiermacher may, perhaps, be right, but the case has not been argued.

A more traditional discussion is "Campbell on Atonement." In this Mac-quarrie discusses the nineteenth-century Scottish theologian's theory of Christ's redemptive act. Campbell argued that Christ did not merely sorrow for the sins of men but repented. But how could he repent were he not guilty? And Campbell does not want to impute guilt to Christ. Macquarrie suggests a solution by distin-guishing between individual and corpor-ate sin. Christ was without individual sin but participated "in the corporate sin of mankind" (Macquarrie is himself dissatis-fied with this solution to the extent that I am unclear whether it is his own or Campbell's—p. 175). But Macquarrie does write that in Christ "in some mea-sure there is a participation in the state and condoning of its activities. To be truly in the human condition is inevitably to be involved in the moral ambiguities of that condition . . ." (p. 173). I do not see now how this at all solves the problem and as Macquarrie continues the paper it seems to me that he also discovers that it is no solution. I wonder that he does not introduce here the theme of the scape-goat for, whatever else it may have been, the manner of redemption was cultural and took place within the cultural cate-gories of its time. When Christ took on the sins of men he was doing something that was culturally obvious. Christ's act is, accordingly, a sacrament or a symbol that accomplishes what it symbolises. But what is then required is an analysis of what is meant by "because of" in the phrase that redemption occurred because of Christ's death. But these questions and criticisms serve only to show the evoca-tive power of the collection.

Garrett Barden

Select Another
Top