The Christian Existentialist | Bernard Häring

The cover of Härings The Christian ExistentialistThis book made me nervous. While I have been formed intellectually by many themes of existentialism (see my review of The Committed Self), the existential emphasis on individualism is troublesome, theologically. The Christian is never a mere individual, but a member of an interdependent body with Christ at the head holding his body (along with the whole created order) together.

These four lectures, from one of the formulators of the ecumenism of Vatican II, quickly put my fears to rest. The very first lecture differentiates Personalism (Häring’s viewpoint) from mere Individualism. Individualistic existentialism embraced in various forms by Heidegger, Sartre, and de Beauvoir “aims at man’s stepping out of an anonymous existence and emerging from himself in true being-one’s own” (22). Fully developed personalism, on the other hand, portrays a person who steps out of anonymous existence as a mere functionary in a technological machine into communities of love where “he once again feels himself a man in the full sense of the word, i.e., he becomes a person” (9). This Personalism is fundamentally Christian: “a personalism of encounter and community in word and love” (11).

The second and third lectures discuss the intertwined ideas of morality, conscience and freedom. “The fully developed Christian conscience,” writes Häring, “is inseparable from a loving regard for one’s neighbor and a presence before God in faith and love” (57).

The final lecture, “A Christian Existentialism in the Perspective of Salvation History,” was a compelling exposition of the Christian virtue of prudence. The word prudence today is closely associated with the pejorative epithet “prude,” as in someone who has limited their freedom. Häring takes a richer view. Prudence is “the art of adapting our action to the redemptive actions of Christ within the whole history of salvation and in the context of a present salvific community.” Prudence is nothing less than an attentive alignment with the kairos of God’s pneumatic presence in the world.

Existentialism embraces a broad gamut of thought from Nietzsche to Buber. Häring shows that existentialism and Christianity not only fit together, they enable thoughtful Christians to reflect deeply on the their existence and responsibility before God.


Häring, Bernard. The Christian Existentialist: The Philosophy and Theology of Self-Fulfillment in Modern Society. The Deems Lectures. New York: New York University Press, 1968.

Confession and Justice | Kent Annan

Kent AnnanConfession produces freedom and restores right relationships, which releases the river of God’s justice to roll down.

—Annan, Kent. Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World. Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016, 60.

Practical Theology | Mark J. Cartledge

The cover of Cartledge's Practical TheologyEmpirical and Theology are unlikely partners. Empirical refers to that which is verifiable through observation. Theology (at least in the more conservative traditions) is rooted in revelation and textual studies. In Practical Theology, Mark Cartledge demonstrates how these two ideas play well together in a Charismatic milieu.

Practical Theology is written in two parts. In the first three chapters, Cartledge explains his methodology along with a variety of research methods that suit. Particularly enlightening is the way he weaves contemporary philosophy and charismatic scholarship together to define truth.

The chapters in the second half of Practical Theology illustrate the methodology of the first half. Cartledge has used both quantitative and qualitative research methods in his career. He uses the data he gathered throughout his research to demonstrate various ways of doing sociological studies. These chapters are interesting on two levels. They illuminate some key ideas in charismatic theology: prophecy, the role of women, and glossolalia to name a few. At the end of each study Cartledge offers a reflection on the methods used to interpret the data.

Practical Theology should be read by anyone interested in doing sociological research from a charismatic perspective.


Cartledge, Mark J. Practical Theology: Charismatic and Empirical Perspectives. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2003.

Theology Comes Standard | Kevin J. Vanhoozer

Kevin J. VanhoozerTheology is not a luxury, an optional extra (like leather trim), but a standard operating feature (like a steering wheel) of the pastorate.

—Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), 27.

The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon | James D. G. Dunn

The cover of Dunn's The Epistles to the Colossians and to PhilemonColossians is a stunning letter. Written near the end of Paul’s life, his message to the church is rooted in a profound understanding of Jesus Christ and the implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection for both the universe and individual believers. Consider the epic vision of Jesus portrayed in the Christ Hymn:

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation
For in him were created all things
in the heavens and on the earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or principalities or authorities;
all things were created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things,
and all things hold together in him;

and he is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
in order that he might be in all things preeminent.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things to him,
making peace through the blood of his cross (through him),
whether the things on the earth or the things in the heavens.
(Colossians 1:15-20 Dunn)

In other words, “Christ is all and in all” (3:11 Dunn).

Having studied Dunn’s Theology of Paul the Apostle in detail (check it out here if you’re interested), I am always eager to read another of his commentaries. His NIGTC entry is detailed without feeling ponderous. Dunn brings out the meaning of the Greek language with clarity. He brings the perceptive reader to the point where the implicit relevance of the text shines through the exegesis.

The NIGTC series is written for the study of the Greek text. However, you don’t have to be a language expert to follow Dunn’s arguments. This commentary should appeal to any thoughtful Pauline exegete.


Dunn, James D. G. The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon. NIGTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

Practicing Theology | Miroslav Volf and Dorothy C. Bass, eds.

The cover of Volf and Bass' Practicing TheologyWhat does theology have to do with the so-called real life? Are theologians doing anything other than splitting hairs? Volf and Bass, along with all the contributors to this volume argue that theology is intimately connected with life. This connection is discerned through the concept of practice.

In general use, a practice is a dense cluster of ideas and activities that are related to a specific goal and shared by a social group over time. . . . Christian practices are patterns of cooperative human activity in and through which life together takes shape over time in response to and in the light of God known in Jesus Christ. (3)

By engaging in theological reflection on Christian practice, the contributors to this volume—all academic theologians—demonstrate how important theology is for living faithfully in a changing world.

The various essays in this volume reflect on a diverse range of practice including healing, hospitality, theological education, and worship. Tammy Williams is particularly insightful in her essay, “Is There a Doctor in the House? Reflections on the Practice of Healing in African American Churches.” By examining the practice of African American churches, she uncovers three models of healing: care, cure, and holism.

Volf closes the book by arguing that while “Christian beliefs normatively shape Christian practices, and engaging in practices can lead to acceptance and deeper understanding of these beliefs,” beliefs take logical priority.

Since we identify who God is through beliefs—primarily through the canonical witness to divine self-revelation—adequate beliefs about God cannot be ultimately grounded in a way of life; a way of life must be grounded in adequate beliefs about God. (260)

Practicing Theology functions on two levels. On the ground level, each article has something insightful to say about Christian practice. On a higher level, the book shows that theology is not a withdrawal from the world but a way to engage the life and practices of the Christian community more deeply.


Volf, Miroslav and Dorothy C. Bass, eds. Practicing Theology: Beliefs and PRactices in Christian Life. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

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