It has been an interesting year of reading for me. Without setting out to do so I've read several first rate books by women scholars in several theological categories. Sarah Coakley's God, Sexuality and the Self is the first of a multi-volume systematic theology that moves away from intellectualised theology on the classic models, and tries to do something fresh and different. She is deeply committed to theologyas a contemplative activity, and that isn't a contradiction in terms. Prayer may indeed take the form of theological learning and intellectual listening, but it does so in a disposition of humility, reticence and a recognition that for all our study and accumulated scholarship, our findings are provisional and imperfect, because God is beyond the range of our cognitive control.
Then there is Kate Sonderegger's astonishingly lucid and compelling account of the unity of God, in the first volume of her systematic theology the title an unadorned description, The Doctrine of God. In contrast to the Trinity-fest of recent decades, and the elevation of God as a social being of Triune love, Sonderegger insists with considerable forthrightness that the starting point and primary truth is the unity of God. The classic terminology is explored, commended and affirmed; omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence, the perfections and attributes of God are unabashedly placed in a theological structure that refuses to privilege either Trinity or Christology over the central unequivocal truth that, from start to finish, God is one. How this one God has choosen to reveal Godself does indeed lead to very early and continuing trinitarian and christological constructive theology; but these doctrines arise out of, and are decisively shaped by, the prior truth that God is one. Reading this book, as one who has read much of Moltmann, Boff, Gunton, Lacugna as well as Letham, Levering and a shelf of others, and who has for years been inclined to a social view of the Trinity, I found myself experiencing the theological equivalent of a dressing room team talk in which I was being asked to cast off complacency and rethink my game! And she is not wrong.
I'm just finsishing Marilynne Robinson's The Givenness of Things. She's done it again. A collection of essays that are discursive, moving with ease from literature to culture, from Calvinism to Shakespeare, observing with laser clarity the restless illness of the contemporary church, and urging a return to the great traditions of Christian theology, not least in the Reformed vein. Any one of these essays would serve as an example of why it is important to have an archimedean point on which sound theological reflection can gain leverage. For her it is Calvinism though not uncritically, with some Barth though with quite significant reservations, but generally and firmly Reformed which while not perfect, is a theological tradition unashamed of confessing and defending its faith. There is a short paragraph of precise diagnosis, for example, where she pinpoints one of the near fatal preoccupations of contemporary Christians - "relevance". The test of relevance is narrow, short termed, anthropocentric and theologically myopic and amnesiac at the same time.