Thursday, 23 August 2018

‘Not for the fainthearted’: William J. Abraham on Divine Action

I’m currently going through the first of William Abraham’s volumes on Divine Agency and Divine Action for review. It’s most definitely a tasty read, full of nutritious nuggets. I digested this one yesterday:

My aim is to highlight that the debate about divine action cannot avoid making tacit epistemological commitments. If theologians are deprived of the critical resources without which they cannot do their work, then, there is no hope of recovery. In my judgment, the last thing the theologian should do is resist crossing over into the new world opened up in the church by divine revelation. It is precisely within that world that we are introduced to a wide-ranging canon of divine action that is central to identifying, describing, and explaining who God is, what God has done, and why God has acted and acts as he does. It is one of the tasks of the theologian to step into that world with its own magnificent inheritance of commentary and reflection and get on with the business of articulating who God is and what he has done. We have had enough formal analysis and detours.
To be sure, stepping into that world calls forth our best endeavors to make sense of the epistemology involved. In doing this we break with the epistemic shibboleths to be found in most contemporary departments of philosophy, whether analytic or non-analytic. The likelihood of getting past cries of arbitrary fideism, slavery to authority, bondage to ecclesiastical authority, and irrational emotionalism is thin; as thin as the calls to think for ourselves, to grow up intellectually, and to come into the modern world of science and history, are shrill. So be it. A radical break from the shibboleths of our time on the part of the theologian is both necessary and feasible. Just as important is the urgent imperative to develop the ontology of agency and action that will undergird the extraordinary range of divine action, general and special, in which we are immersed. Theologians are entitled to develop their own modest metaphysical resources on agency and action in order to come to terms with who God is and what he has done.
This enterprise is not for the fainthearted.

William J. Abraham, Divine Agency and Divine Action, Volume I: Exploring and Evaluating the Debate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 163–64

The context is a chapter on science and divine action, in which Abraham critiques the tendency to assume that scientific perspectives can supply answers to theological questions about divine action. Also, I should point out that the volume from which this quotation is taken is the first of a tetralogy. Volumes 1 and 2 are already out, with volume 3 coming out later this year—no idea about volume 4!

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