Wednesday, 14 June 2006

For the love of God (14): Why I love Kathryn Tanner

A guest-post by Chris Tessone

“[In the Incarnation], God is doing what God is always doing, attempting to give all that God is to what is not God” (Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology, p. 15).

This conviction about the constant, unconditional grace of God lies at the center of Kathryn Tanner’s theology. There is no moment at which God chooses to withhold the constant stream of grace from creation—it is part of God’s identity that God wishes to share with humanity and the rest of the world all that is shared between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This leads Tanner to some tremendous conclusions.

First, this universal access to grace leads her to stress the importance of non-competitive economies of grace in human life. If the Divine wishes to bring us into the shared life of the Trinity no matter what short-comings we bring, this should radically transform our relations with one another. In her most recent book, Economy of Grace (2005), Tanner expands this to include financial economies that are non-competitive or that seek to distribute wealth downward, to the neediest and the least in society.

Her theology is also deeply Eucharistic, highlighting the role of the Eucharist in training us to accept and freely distribute the grace of God. “[T]he character and quality of our union with Christ must be bettered, heightened from weak union to strong, for example, through the repeated performance of the Eucharist in the power of the Spirit.” This permits us to “live in God and not simply in relationship with God,” sharing the grace we receive in a profligate manner, not worrying that it will be diminished or wasted on the “undeserving.” One reason I love Tanner’s theology is that this understanding of the Eucharist speaks more directly to my experience of it than any other I’ve encountered.

Kathryn Tanner’s theology is located at a very fruitful “sweet spot” between the mystical and the exoteric; the church of the Eucharist and the church of social justice; our powerful, transcendent God and our intimate, immanent God. Her central concepts of profligate grace and non-competitiveness can challenge and transform our deeply divided church of today.

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