Yesterday the death was announced of the Reformed theologian William Placher. I first came across his work in his Narratives of a Vulnerable God, and The Domestication of Transcendence, two books which sought to recover the biblical paradox of a God who relates to creation as vulnerable yet transcendent, and in so doing correct those all too human urges to either foist on God our notions of power, or treat God as if that power could be co-opted for our projects and prejudices. His latest book The Triune God: An Essay in Post-Liberal Theology, explores the complexities and limitations for human beings of personal relationships, and seeks to ground them in the relatedness of Love and Being that is the Triune God of the Christian Gospel. The pastoral alertness of Placher's theology can be sensed in words like the following. They demonstrate why his death is a significant loss to the work of relating Christian theology to the realities of life in a post-most things world. How much our world has to learn, and to learn quickly, if we are to learn to live creatively with human difference:
"We human persons are always failing to be fully personal. As persons, we are shaped by our relations with other persons. Yet we always deliberately raise barriers or cannot figure out how to overcome the barriers we confront.
When those we most love come to die, or in the dementia of old age are no longer able to understand what we may most want to say to them, we realize how much there was in our hearts that we never shared with them.
When we best articulate our ideas, we cannot escape the feeling that there was something there we never quite captured. When we most rejoice in sharing with someone different from ourselves, difference nevertheless scares us.
The doctrine of the Trinity, however, proclaims that true personhood, however impossible its character may be for us to imagine, involves acknowledging real difference in a way that causes not fear but joy."
The man who wrote like that, also spoke like that. In a sermon in College Chapel he urged, "The way we best show our love to the whole world is… to love with a particular passion some little part of it."
We need more, not fewer theologians like Bill Placher.