February 12, 2010

Up a (Family) Tree

Ephraim Radner has published a typically wordy review of Reasonable and Holy in The Living Church. I have to say I am disappointed, not because the review is dismissive, but because I had hoped for more engagement with the issues and conclusions I present. Instead, Radner spends much of his time dealing with form rather than content. (It is a poor critic who blames another workman’s tools.) Plainly Radner does not like my conclusions, but he addresses only two or three of them in any detail. I will be making a longer response as time permits (I am in the midst of completing several major projects, and will be traveling on Anglican Communion business next week). However, I want here to examine just one of the assertions Radner makes. It is revelatory of the extent to which the heterosexualist mind-set, dazzled and misled by an eisegetical “larger scriptural vision” is prevented from engagement with alternative ideas, or, it seems, the actual text.

Radner states,

The central element of procreation in marriage, for instance, is bound up with the character of Israel’s calling in fallen (and the Fall has no place in Haller’s scheme) human history — genealogy — and ought not simply to be examined in terms of this or that individual person or couple (a rather modern obsession).

I will leave to one side the fact that I examine at some length the traditional imagery of both marriage and harlotry in the role of Israel in salvation history (pp. 53-56). Mindful as well of the apostolic injunction “not to occupy [myself] with ... endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith,” (1 Tim 1:4), I nonetheless feel it necessary to challenge Radner’s assertion here — or what I can make of it.

For while it is obviously true that procreation and genealogy are linked, the crucial observation from the New Testament, in the two places where genealogies figure, is that procreation — at least heterosexual procreation — is not at issue. Both Matthew (1:1-16) and Luke (3:23-38) reach their climax in an essential subversion of heterosexual procreation: Matthew sweeps aside all of his carefully constructed line of fatherhood to turn his attention to Mary, and then to describe the virginal conception. Luke, emerging from the revelation of Jesus Christ as Son of God at his baptism, presents a reverse genealogy that culminates in the affirmation that the first Adam was also Son of God. (As I note in Reasonable and Holy, the three most important persons in salvation history — Adam, Eve, and Jesus — are not the result of heterosexual sex; and, again contrary to Radner’s careless reading, I cite the traditional patristic and medieval reading of Mary’s role in the reversal of the Fall, as the “new Eve,” as a crucial factor in a sound understanding of the place of procreation in the work of God. See pp. 30-38) Taking all of this, as I do, in the context of John’s words about those who are born “from above” (John 3:3 )and not “of the will of man,” (John 1:13) I think I have expounded a sound biblical picture, consonant with the actual text — even if it must dissipate the Radnerian mirage, typified by his dismissive and anti-incarnational conclusion. Ultimately it is about individual persons — and this is no “modern obsession” but at the heart of the Christian faith.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


G said...

It's a testament to your work that one of the most accomplished theologians of the adversary is unable to find fault with it per se. I now have a new post up examining some of the problems in Radner's review that cause me concern; I'd love to hear what you think.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Personhood is indeed at the heart of Christian faith. To begin with the 3 Persons of the Trinity...

dvbb said...

Unfortunately, Radner uses words the way a squid uses ink.

We're always hearing, even from his opponents, how "brilliant" and "formidable" a scholar he is, but frankly, I don't see it.

He reminds me too much of the eager student in every graduate seminar who can produce a dense, complex essay that, once one has spent a few hours teasing it apart, turns out not to say much, if anything.

June Butler said...

Adam, Eve, and Jesus — are not the result of heterosexual sex;

Nor did Jesus procreate, so far as we know. :-)

R said...

Yes. So said Chalcedon, too.

Anonymous said...

I am midway through your book, and find it fascinating in approach, style and conclusions. Partly, this is because as a Roman Catholic I have very limited exposure to Anglican theology. I am enjoying both the differences and the similarities that I see.

Proponents of a reevaluation of moral theology in relation to gay people, and of gay marriage specifically, have a tough row to hoe. You and many others are furrowing away diligently and carefully. However, those who respond to you are often purely reactive, and are writing with far less theological acumen. It seems that the traditional side is often content with rehashing tired phrases and arguments rather than actually thinking through the questions.

Brother David said...

However, those who respond to you are often purely reactive, and are writing with far less theological acumen. It seems that the traditional side is often content with rehashing tired phrases and arguments rather than actually thinking through the questions.

Oh so true on so many themes.

WSJM said...

Very well said, Tobias. I also thought Geoff's post was very good. In the American church we are currently reading from Genesis in the Daily Office (Jacob is on his way to Haran to find a wife), and I am reminded that every time someone starts in about the "Biblical teaching on marriage" I can't help but giggle.

Jim Naughton said...

I was never a big fan of the Living Church, but under the callow Christopher Wells it has become a vanity venue in which Radner sneers at this enemies and settles scores. Only the journalism of Doug LeBlanc makes it worth opening.

Fr Gregory said...

An academic colleague of mine, a devoutly unreconstructed Marxist of the variety I assumed was now only to be found in the glass cases of the Museum of Natural History, recently reviewed a book that suggested (albeit all too politely for my taste) that “pure Marxism” (whatever that may be) was not necessarily the solution to all human ills. Naturally, the review was scathing. Of course, my colleague did not begin by declaring his pre-existing obsession with Marx as the Saviour of the World, but attacked the work under review on “scholarly” grounds.
I found that approach fundamentally dishonest and academically unethical. So I find Professor Radner’s review of “Reasonable and Holy”. It does not require a great deal of intellectual effort to conclude that a professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College operates on the basis of a number of assumptions, matters of faith which he does not – indeed cannot – question, just as my colleague does not, and cannot, genuinely question the Truth of Marxism. That is, as far as it goes, perfectly fine. But it does raise the question of whether any scholar, committed de facto to a set of pre-existing truths which he cannot question and does not declare, can serious and objectively review a work which basically questions those pre-existing truths. Shall we see an objective and scholarly review of Kung’s work on infallibility from a Professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University? Or, at least, a professor who desires to keep his tenure.
Unfortunately, particularly in the academic field of religion and theology, the pretence – if not fraud - of some objectivity and personal distance is all too common, with writers purporting to be able to consider with detachment even arguments which, if correct, would essentially undermine their own faith commitments.
I would not object to a review of “Reasonable and Holy” that began: “Given that I believe as a matter of unquestionable faith that homosexuality and homosexual practice is always and everywhere condemned by God......” But, if that is a reviewer’s position, how can he do otherwise than condemn Father Tobias’ book? Can he say, perhaps: “As a result of reading and studying this book I have now completely abandoned my pre-existing belief that.....”? I presume tenure at Wycliffe College might become a matter for discussion is this were so.
I have no particular objections to any of Professor Radner’s (somewhat tedious and pedantic and snide) criticisms of the book. I could add some of my own. The book does not run to 5,000 pages and does not contain 150,000 footnotes and a bibliography citing 200,000 works (mainly from obscure academic journals). And (traditional academics will here clutch their racing hearts!) it was largely published first on a blog to which (horror!) ordinary people had access. It’s even written in language that might just be comprehensible to intelligent men and women who don’t possess degrees in theology!
But all the sniping and nit-picking and tragic academic snobbery is really nothing to do with scholarship. It is to do with Truth: (i) Fr Tobias' essential thesis must be false because it contradicts Divinely Revealed Truth, therefore (ii) his scholarship must be defective because if it was not it would support Divinely Revealed Truth, and therefore (iii) it is essential to attack his scholarship lest it lead to the questioning of Divinely Revealed Truth.
So why not just state this at the outset? Indeed, why review of the book at all? It can’t (by definition) add anything to our understanding of the subject because it is, by definition, wrong?

Fr Gregory

MarkBrunson said...

Honestly, one of the things that bothers me about liberals is our self-conscious politeness which encourages others to take weakness of thought and argument as serious debate.


Radner's not in your league. You present, he rattles and rabbits. Look, I'm not saying he and Tom Wright and so on aren't clever, but they're clever lawyers - twisting and blanketing the landscape with words - rather than explanatory, exploratory, or even logical teachers and thinkers. They start with a conclusion, them fit the argument to it without your illumination or clarity of thought, and certainly without your humility. Sift the excess verbiage. Strip away the justifications, back-tracking and repetition, and what you get from these learned doctors is regurgitated Sunday school lessons from when they were 10.

They may be "doctors," but they aren't theologians. You are.

Closed said...

It is "maybe", as you note at Preludium that matters. Anglicanism rests in maybe's on moral theological matters and at our best have taken care to mind Lutheran warnings of our own purity of practice no matter how venerable and longstanding.

Moral theology is never a straightforward course of premises and propositions, but a meandering path that minds flesh and blood.

Closed said...

Also, I might note an interesting theological twist, one that I might add, sits at the heart of shifts in theology of Baptismal Covenant via Maurice, Christ is First and Second Adam, by this meaning that always first our creation is through and with and by Christ and not Adam and Eve. This existential ground if you will shifts us away from a substance-tendency of gender differentiation discussions. I might also add, that I find the JPII's Theology of the Body deeply problematic, overly inflating heterosexual marriage and heterosexual sex with an outpouring of the divine in the same way some have too quickly overidentified Trinity and human communities. Hieros gamos tendencies as would be said in the language of Tobias Haller :)

James said...

To have one's work disliked by the likes of Radner is the highest compliment. His review speaks to what/who he is rather than your brilliant work.

Brother David said...

If it helps you feel better Father T, I have difficulty reading it!