See part I here. Also, I hope to make all of these into a PDF at the end so you should be able to download it.
I hope I did not seem to be too sure of myself when I said that Ward ‘saw weaknesses’ in Cities of God, as if somehow I am a fit enough mind to make such a judgement. This conclusion becomes clear in the second book in Ward’s Cities Trilogy, Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice.
Whereas I found Cities to be unsystematic and somewhat obscure, this book was a beacon of rigorous and focused thinking. This must be in part because he asks three questions in this book and focuses exclusively on them:
“From What Place Does Theology Speak?”
“How Do Cultures Change?” and
“What Is The Relationship Between Religious Practices and Cultural Transformation?”
To examine the first question, Ward (who is no novice with respect to the theology of Barth) examines the relationship between Barth’s theology and his biographical context. How do various and specific pressures on Barth work themselves out in his theology? The answer, unsurprisingly, is that Barth’s work was profoundly shaped by the various situations and motivations that worked on him and directed his mind. This is might be a controversial thing to say for those Barthinians who really think Barth explicated a “pure dogmatics of the Word,” but there is simply no “pure” anything so they’ll just have to get over it.
In examining how cultures change, Ward draws often on the work of Paul Ricoeur, as he does in his third section, to yield some sweet fruit. This second chapter pays particular attention to the cultural structures and poetics that affect our praxis. Within this he draws out how to understand the thinking “subject,” argues for “standpoint epistemology” and much besides. He corrects the passive and impotent subject of Foucault and shows how intentionality and imagination enable people not to be content with being merely acted upon yet also how we don’t come up with ideas ex nihilo but draw and pro-ject from available resources.
The third chapter more clearly examines cultural change with reference to the practices of small groups with particular attention to Christian practice. In order to do this Ward explains Benedict Anderson’s understanding of relationships as “imaginary” and moves on to talk about “authority” and “rhetoric” and even how the public sphere is created.
This book was concise, tightly and well argued, and made for exciting possibilities in how to think about many topics from doctrinal change to the situatedness of all discourses. I would recommend it to any Barthinian and to anyone doing or thinking about theology or any academic practice for that matter; not only because it complexifies the “assured results of modern scholarship” and also of any “pure dogmatics” but also, it’s just a tintilating read.