September 4, 2016
“We do not enter into a different domain when we move from the glorious unicity and uniqueness of God to His life as Trinity. We remain within the supercelestial and majestic reality of the true and living God.”
— Katherine Sonderegger
I am finally reading Sonderegger’s Systematic Theology. It has taken long enough, I know, especially considering all the buzz surrounding this volume and the fact that this website is dedicated to promoting dogmatics. In my defense, I have been studying Henri Bouillard and doing quite a bit of research on the analogia entis in Catholic-Protestant dialog. This includes reading Erich Przywara’s massive and dense Analogia Entis, which is not for the faint of heart.
Professor Sonderegger’s projected three-volume systematic theology is poised to be one of the most significant dogmatic projects in this century. The significance may be found, in part, in how it signals a new shift in contemporary dogmatics. She is fully aware of this.
In the course of presenting her doctrine of God, Sonderegger is frequently engaged with modern theology by way of distinguishing her own commitments. Modern theology — namely, 19th and 20th century theology — is characterized by a turn toward the human, which is to say, toward epistemology and history. Herein, we are familiar with categories such as “act,” “event,” “encounter,” “narrative,” “story,” and other dynamic terms that focus on the economic side of God’s life, i.e., his life with man. This is in contrast to the premodern categories derived from an eternal and perfect order of being — the metaphysical and speculative.
She is not satisfied with modern theology. For whatever gains, there were tremendous losses. For this first volume in her systematics, she is focused on recovering the oneness of God, indeed as a starting point. But she grounds and articulates this “unicity” of God by way of exegesis, especially Old Testament exegesis. Thus, even divine revelation is the provenance of the metaphysical and speculative, not just act and narrative. Also, she is not interested, as far as I can see, in apologetics, which has been so often associated with classical metaphysics. For these reasons, it is not easy to categorize Sonderegger vis-à-vis “modern” theology. She is a mixture of the classical and the modern.
I highly recommend that you watch her lecture on the Trinity at Biola University, delivered earlier this year:
For those of us who have studied John Webster, you will be immediately struck at how Sonderegger’s and Webster’s projects aligned. Webster had long been moving in the exact same direction as Sonderegger, namely the recovery of God’s perfection — a perfection understood in metaphysical terms (with “aseity” first and foremost). Even her exalted prose is very close to that of Webster. So, it is surprising that she does not utilize Webster’s work in her Systematic Theology, at least not in this first volume. Nonetheless, I assume that Webster was extremely heartened by this work and satisfied with its contribution to theology.
Here are some excerpts that I have transcribed from the above lecture. The minute marks are in parenthesis:
We do not enter into a different domain when we move from the glorious unicity and uniqueness of God to His life as Trinity. We remain within the supercelestial and majestic reality of the true and living God. Every element that we bring to the knowledge of the one God — our seeking Him because He first sought us, our turning to Him in penury and need, our beseeching His presence in our intellect and on our tongues, His utter humility and goodness, His unbroken serenity and freedom, His glorious riding on the wings of the wind — all of this we bring into our investigation of the Triune mystery. (11′-12′)
She uses Moltmann as her sparing partner.
Moltmann holds not only the Trinity is the proper and Christian doctrine of God but also that such a doctrine cannot in our era be speculative — that shame word of Protestant dogmatics. We might associate this move with the great name of Karl Barth, but I must say that I read the Swiss master otherwise. But in Moltmann, perhaps in a radical reading of Barth or the Reformed tradition, this anti-speculative move breaks out as a fever. He insists that we are to focus on the economy…. Moltmann makes a strong moral claim: a theology after Aushwitz cannot afford to speculate on a God remote from the tormented world of victim and persecutor. (16′-17′)
If you want a good example of how she reads Karl Barth, I recommend her essay, “Barth and the Divine Perfections” (SJT, Nov 2014).
This modern preoccupation with the doctrine of revelation, a legacy I fear more of the early modern turn to epistemology and humanistic fields than to unstinting devotion to the biblical witness — this has led us, I say, into a comfortable confusion about just what biblical revelation entails. …The [modern] doctrine of revelation temps us to imagine, that is, that the God of the economy is known and the God of the immanent Trinity is hidden, unknown, utterly transcendent. (20′-21′)
We cannot hope to obey the most ancient of injunctions about proper knowledge of God should our quest begin in violation of the divine unicity — even conceptually. That is why a starting point in the economic Trinity can only be a dead end. (33′)
That should give you an adequate taste of the lecture. The next day, she delivered another lecture at Biola: “The Theological Task and Human Well-Being.” This is more personal and autobiographical, with lots of wisdom.