Purpose and Providence is an engaging read and White’s prose is elegant. He is not content simply to engage with theological ideas as such but dedicates a chapter to excavating layers of the transcendent from the writings of Thomas Hardy and Julian Barnes; a chapter to tracing the development of the doctrine of providence in Christian thought, from Augustine through to Barth, via Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and even Friedrich Schleiermacher and G.W.F. Hegel; and still another chapter to more recent accounts of divine action, including those of the science and religion dialogue and Kevin Vanhoozer’s model of divine communicative action (of which White appears highly appreciative). White is fair to his interlocutors and modest in what his own proposals might achieve or contribute to wider discussions. As with any monograph, there are points in the details that could be perceived as weaknesses. For example, the idea of figural interpretation is such an important element of Purpose and Providence that I cannot help but wonder if White should explain it in more detail than he does. His ideas are shown to resonate with Scripture, but arguably some actual exegesis of specific biblical passages might have been useful as well (though I accept such exegetical reflections would probably have interrupted White’s overall thesis). And some, including me, might find that White’s account of God’s radical otherness bears too much conceptual weight; if pushed too hard, surely such radical otherness essentially transmutes into an unconstrained omnipotence—a recurring vulnerability in discussions of divine providence. But against these things, I can only emphasise that Purpose and Providence is pregnant with possibilities and so essential reading for anyone with an academic interest in the doctrine of providence.
Saturday, 8 October 2016
My Review of Vernon White’s Purpose and Providence
My review of Vernon White’s Purpose and Providence: Taking Soundings in Western Thought, Literature and Theology has now been published in Regent’s Reviews 8:1 (2016). Here’s my concluding paragraph: