Monday, June 02, 2008

Practicing theology : beliefs and practices in Christian life
Edited by Miroslav Volf and Dorothy C. Bass
265 pages
Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (October 2001)

Miroslav Volf was born in Croatia in 1956. He has studied at Evangelical-Theological Faculty, Zagreb; Fuller Theological Seminary, and University of Tubigen. He is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. (Sources: back cover of book and Wikipedia entry; see also curriculum vitae (pdf))

Dorothy C. Bass "directs the Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith, a Lilly Endowment project based at Valparaiso University that develops resources to help contemporary people live the Christian faith with vitality and integrity in changing times" (source).

Intention: Being of the conviction that "our thinking about God and our way of living should go hand in hand," the editors and authors intend this book to explicate and embody "an approach to theology that arises from those convictions" (p 2).

Structure: After an introduction by Bass, the book's twelve chapters are divided into four sections, as follows
  • Embracing a way of life (ch 1-2)
  • Engaging in ministry (ch 3-8)
  • Becoming theologians (ch 9-11)
  • Serving a way of life (ch 12, written by Volf)
  • Footnotes
  • List of Contributors
Summary Outline of:
"A Theological Understanding of Christian Practices"
by Craig Dykstra and Dorothy C. Bass

(detail bullets removed for length 062408)
Thesis: a systematic and theological way of thinking about the Christian Practices (CPs) that incarnate a way of life consistent with and in response to God's gracious gift of life abundant involves theologians and practitioners in the formation of an individual and corporate way of life that is whole, connected, and transforming.
I. Three depictions of baptism in film (Tender Mercies, Romero, and The Godfather) show CPs to play a crucial, transforming role in a Christian way of life.

II. CPs offer an efficient and sufficient means for careful, theological reflection on a distinctively Christian way of life, and lived across time and culture.

III. CPs are deeply human, carried out in the context of and in response to God's gracious gift of life abundant, resulting in the formation of a way of life that incarnates God's will and work.

IV. The way of life abundant, constituted by CPs that are expressed in daily life and theological thought, is definitional of Christianity.

Summary Outline of:
"Attending to the Gaps between Beliefs and Practices"
by Amy Plantinga Pauw

Thesis: The gap in belief's nurturing influence on behavior and behavior's stimulating influence on belief opens and closes in the context of the grace of God and the affective and communal dimensions of human personhood.
I. Affective and communal aspects exert a profound influence on the degree and manner of the influences between belief and behavior.

II. The story of Jonah is a stark example of the shaping influence of the affective dimension.

III. The length and breadth of practice in community exerts a powerful correcting/corrupting influence on the belief-behavior complex.

IV. The largest hurdle to and greatest hope for closing the belief-behavior gap is a change in the heart's desire.

Summary Outline of:
"Beliefs, Desires, Practices, and the Ends of Theological Education"
by L. Gregory Jones

Thesis: The Christian formation of leaders with integrated beliefs, desires, and practices takes place on the pilgrimage through the overlapping contexts of church, seminary, and society and by means of the interrelated functions of catechesis, critical reflection, and faithful living.
I. A first step in repairing/redeeming ineffective/absent Christian formation is recognizing the necessary interrelatedness of
catechesis, critical reflection, and faithful living.

II. Currently, churches have abdicated from their role in catechesis, seminaries have prioritized information over formation, and the Church in general suffers a grave disconnect from society.

III. Ancient catechetical practice well illustrates the interrelatedness of
beliefs, desires, and practices in Christian formation.

IV. The seminary can implement the lessons from ancient catechetical practice and respond to the current situation by prioritizing formation, by providing remedial shaping of desires and practices, and by reaching outside the seminary through church- and community-based lay academies.

Summary Outline of:
"Theology for a Way of Life"
by Miroslav Volf

Thesis: Theology as "critical and methodologically disciplined reflection" on God and his work/will serves the way of life abundant an dis most properly and effectively accomplished from within this way of life.

I. There is an intimate and necessary relationship between beliefs (some ritually enacted as sacraments) and practices.

II. Christian beliefs define practices as Christian and form the normative moral space in which such practices take place.
Beliefs are what practices are.

III. Christian beliefs inhere in Christian practices. Practices are what beliefs do.

IV. Beliefs are primarily a narration of God's action and practices are human resonances with that divine action.

V. Right practice usually leads to right belief and makes right understanding more likely.

VI. God himself is ultimate and adequate. Canonically founded beliefs about him and his work ground Christian practices. An adequate theology explains God, is concerned with disputed beliefs, fits with itself, and exists in relation to other beliefs and disciplines.

VII. Adequate theology serves a way of life and does so by reflecting on God himself, the source and end of this way of life.


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