Be it the gripping Torture and Eucharist, the insightful Mystical Theology or the symphonic On Christian Theology, books in the Blackwell series “Challenges in Contemporary Theology” have yet to not drastically shift my worldview after reading, and Graham Ward’s Christ and Culture is no exception (I can’t wait to read the rest in the series).
Despite the fact that this is a collection of previously released and delivered essays, there is a certain deep similarity in theme, style and content between them. These pick up on all the collective themes of Christology; “incarnation, atonement, the economics of the Trinity what it is to be human [and] the Church” (23) but do so in a manner steeped in discourses very distant to the sort of christology of predication that I’m used to reading such as hermeneutics, metaphysics and cultural theory. Topics like embodiment and the operation of desire also play a large role. (23)
Yet all revolve around very close readings of Scripture. Ward pays particular attention to St. Mark’s Gospel but Scripture is used thoroughly and uniquely all throughout this book. Even if one were to disagree with all of Ward’s conclusions, many of which are controversial, this book is hugely important as I see it for its christological and exegetical method(s).
Ward builds off Aquinas where in the Summa he says, “God is not known to us in His nature, but is made known to us in His operations. (Summa Theologiae, I.Q13.8). Therefore Ward asks not “who is the Christ or what is the Christ [but] where is the Christ” (1) … and I might add, “what is Christ doing?”
The introduction alone is worth the price which not only concisely lays out his own vision but offers a substantive and wide ranging critique of Karl Barth, especially his christological dialectics which as Ward sees it, makes of Christ “either the absolute subject or the absolute object.” (12) (This seems not too unlike to some of Rowan Williams’ critique of Barth, cf. – “Barth on the Triune God,” Wrestling With Angels, pp.106-149) Briefly summing it up, Ward lays it out like this:
“Barth’s dogmatic approach to Christology (a) all too thinly defines the economies of salvation in which the gracious love of Christ finds a responding desire; (b) this finds expression in the thinness of his account of mediations (c) such that his mediating christology remains tied to specific cultural assumptions about the subject and nature; (d) this binds christology to the logic of dualism, itself a product of a certain cultural heritage in modernity; (e) this logic and these assumptions, on the basis of which we develops his dialectical method, render him unable to reflect upon his own cultural production of christology. The world is so lost, so secularized, so ignorant of God that both Christ and subsequently a theology of Christ operate above and beyond such a world, in contradistinction to it.” (14-15)
Of the Ward books I’ve read, this and his Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice were the ones that really captured my imagination. It is important in its own right (or seems like it to me at least) but also in that it renders such criticisms as “RO doesn’t deal with Christ or the Bible or discipleship seriously enough” in need of more evidence. And it also disrupts the all too common saying I hear, that Ward is some sort of exception to RO, “Ward I can take, Milbank I can’t.” Nevertheless, Ward would not want to be holed up on a “side” in contemporary theology.
I can’t wait to reread this one…hopefully I’ll make more strides toward comprehending the details.